By Megan Hopps
Sun Press Newspapers
The Champlin City Council met Monday, June 12, to continue its discussion regarding a liquor license for Thomas Reese Olive Oil, owned and operated by Christine Diebel.
Diebel closed the bistro unexpectedly back in December and re-opened in the same location — at the corner of Highway 169 and Hayden Lake Road — in spring. In December, the business’ approximate 15 employees reported unpaid wages, and all gift cards that were sold were assumed void of their value. Additionally, the city had purchased several gift cards to give to the city’s volunteers and learned that the bistro’s sewer and water access charges were not paid for several months.
Diebel paid the outstanding sewer and water fees in the amount of $6,018, in the form of a check Friday, May 19, according to City Attorney Scott Lepak.
“The city authorized the Champlin Police Department to perform both a criminal background check and a financial check on the applicant,” Lepak said. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension revealed no criminal convictions in the state and the financial investigation returned no disqualifying instances.”
“I just want to give some explanation as to why we’re here,” Diebel said at an earlier council meeting. “Obviously, the community knows that I closed the business in December due to a separation with my husband and a filing of divorce. The process has been extremely hard for me and even harder for me to come back to this community given everything that has happened.”
She went on to say the absence of a liquor license has had a direct impact on her business and has made it difficult to continue operations.
“It was extremely hard for me to make the decision to close my doors,” she said. “Due to the breakdown of my personal life I just could not continue the business any longer. It was extremely hard to come back and face all of the negativity and all of the comments given to me as a one sided story. Divorce is hard enough, but when it’s in the public eye it’s that much harder. I’m here now and I’m trying with everything I have left to get this going again and I’m hoping that with the approval of the liquor license that I have a fair opportunity and chance to make the business what it once was.”
Diebel’s attorney confirmed that she did pay all of the employees the wages she owed them and issued gift-backs in exchange for the gift cards that were not honored. He added that Diebel has “exclusive control” of the business and the website and is responsible for all debt and liabilities so there “won’t be issues going forward.”
The City Council voted to table the item at its May 22 meeting as all members of the council were not present. Councilors Nate Truesdell and Ryan Sabas were not in favor of approving Diebel’s liquor license, while Councilor Tom Moe and Mayor Ryan Karasek voted in favor of the license.
“I believe in capitalism and I believe that the free market will determine the success of the business,” Karasek said. “The voters are a people that vote with their pocketbooks. I think the community was hurt and I think it would take a lot for folks to come around, but I believe there should be opportunity for a business to succeed.”
Councilor Ryan Sabas voted to deny the motion at the city council meeting May 22, citing state law that calls business owners to be of good moral character and repute.
“With the way this business closed, as a representative of the city of Champlin, I can’t make a motion to approve this,” he said at a previous meeting.
At the June 12 meeting, Attorney Lepak said the council received two letters from community members in support of the Thomas Reese Olive Oil business. Councilor Jessica Tesdall and Mayor Karasek noted that they spoke to several community members on the issue and received several positive comments regarding the liquor license. Additionally, two residents spoke publicly at the meeting in favor of the business stating the city can not afford any more vacant business property.
“I read through my colleagues’ comments in the minutes and respectfully understand the conclusions that they drew based on the information they had at the time,” Councilor Tesdall said. “On the point of good moral character, I feel this body is largely a policy-making body and I asked Mr. Lepak and Mr. Heitkamp (City Administrator) if we have a legal or city-based definition of good moral character and at this time, there is none. So I will not use that rationale to deny the liquor license and I will support it at this time.”
Councilor Truesdell said that he had a few more legal questions he’d like answered and requested that the council wait to vote on the item until its first meeting in August.
“I think it would be a great idea to push this off until the August meeting,” Sabas said. “I think it would be the responsible thing to do to let more information unfold and take a vote then.”
The council voted 3-2 approving the liquor license for Thomas Reese Olive Oil. Councilors Nate Truesdell and Ryan Sabas voted to deny Diebel’s liquor license application.
Upon further investigation,, Minnesota Court Records revealed that Diebel is pending two felony charges in Anoka County for motor vehicle theft and could serve a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
According to the complaint, Diebel reported her 2003 Nissan 350Z as stolen to the Minneapolis Police Department in June 2008. She also reported that the insurance on the vehicle had been suspended, the complaint reads. Diebel was then given payment from the insurance company due to the vehicle’s total loss, according to the complaint.
In November 2008, Diebel’s stolen vehicle was recovered in an underground garage and impounded. That same day, Diebel retrieved it from the impound lot by signing a document verifying that she was legally authorized to take possession of the vehicle, the complaint states.
In 2013 the insurance provider obtained information that the vehicle may have been recovered so the company contacted Diebel several times with intent to retrieve the vehicle but Diebel did not respond, according to the complaint. While Diebel had no rights to the vehicle, she remained in possession of it until her husband contacted the insurance company and revealed that the vehicle was being held in his garage.
In 2016, the insurance provider was able to obtain the vehicle and noted it had plates that were taken off another vehicle owned by Diebel in North Dakota, the complaint read. In a statement, Diebel acknowledged retrieving the vehicle from the impound lot although she had no rights of ownership. She also admitted she concealed the vehicle through several residence changes by keeping it in her garage and not driving it except when it was being moved, the complaint reads.
The 2003 Nissan 350Z was worth upwards of $25,000 at the time it was reported stolen in 2008.
Court records also indicate that a financial transaction card fraud case has been reopened in Scott County.
This information was not discussed at the June 12 Champlin City Council meeting, however, it was mentioned in the city council packet under Item 8 which states, “The pending criminal matter of State of Minnesota v. Christine Mary Diebel, Case No. 02-CR-16-5501 had the plea hearing continued to July 25. It should be noted that records of arrest not followed by a valid conviction cannot be used in connection with any application for a license. Minnesota Statute Section 364.04”
Contact Megan Hopps at [email protected]