AUSTIN (KXAN) - He is a twice-convicted murderer charged with running a drug ring out of his South Austin restaurant.
Last week when charges were announced against Amado Pardo, his wife, Amanda, and 16 others, KXAN News wondered how Jovita's Mexican restaurant ever got a liquor license.
The state agency in charge of issuing those permits, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission , said it does its homework on restaurant and bar owners.
"It's really important to TABC that license- and permit-holders be good citizens," said Carolyn Beck, director of communications for the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
In fact, state law bans anyone with a felony from getting one if less than five years have passed since their punishment ended.
License granted two years after Pardo's parole
But Jovita's got its original liquor license in December 1994, just two years after Pardo's parole ended for his second murder conviction.
TABC officials said his criminal history would have raised red flags back then if his name appeared on the original application.
According to Beck, the only two names on the liquor license were Pardo's sister, Jovita Patino, and another woman named Irene Ornelas.
The agency said now it not only looks at names on the permit but also try to run background checks and speak with anyone profiting off the business -- in addition to anyone who lives with them.
"It's safe to say we are more diligent now, but it is very difficult to say exactly how diligent we were 10 or 15 years ago," said Beck.
Beck said the agency also runs checks on the board of directors that must be listed on the original liquor license application. The directors have to meet the same criteria as an applicant.
Pardo's name on original business documents
KXAN News showed TABC officials Jovita's original business documents filed with the Secretary of State four months before the original liquor license was issued. Pardo and his wife, Amanda, were both listed as directors of Jovita's Inc.
But TABC said their names were nowhere to be found on the application turned into the agency. The agency admits it never compared records with the Secretary of State's office.
"If there's evidence that somebody on the board of directors had a criminal history that made them not qualify for the permit, then we will try to figure out where that slipped through the cracks," said Beck.
Pardo's involvement with the restaurant was no mystery to police and the FBI.
At a news conference last week, Austin police said law enforcement agencies have had their suspicions at various times throughout the last three decades that Pardo was selling drugs.
According to investigators, Pardo and his team have been raking in $3,000 to $6,000 a day in heroin sales.
"He's been in business, Jovita's has been around for quite a while. [Pardo has] also been in the heroin business for quite a while," said Austin Police Cmdr. Donald Baker. "So you can imagine if money was being laundered through the business. And it's a very visible point for people to come in and out of and doesn't draw attraction."
TABC's missed opportunities
State records show Jovita's reported $194,110 in alcohol sales in 2011, but was that alcohol or heroin sales?
TABC could have run across Pardo's wife's name in 2008, but didn't.
Amanda signed off on a Texas Franchise Tax Public Information Report filed with the Secretary of State and the Texas Comptroller's office. Amanda listed herself as the business manager.
If TABC would have questioned the name, a background check might have been done -- not only on her, but on her husband, too.
According to county property tax records, Amanda owns the restaurant.
Jovita's just renewed its liquor license in December of last year, while the business was being investigated by the FBI. TABC officials said they were unaware of the investigation.
The renewal process provided another chance for the agency to double-check who was running and profiting off the restaurant.
But when it comes to renewals, TABC officials said they simply run background checks on names already on file if no red flags are raised.
"We don't dig deeper than the applicants unless there's something that jumps out at us that makes us believe that we need to do a deeper investigation," said Beck. "There are just too many for us to do a deeper investigation in every renewal."
KXAN's questions have the agency looking into why they never crossed paths with two people police said ran Jovita's for nearly two decades.
"If there is a situation where something looks like it might have fallen through the cracks that somebody holds a permit that doesn't meet the criteria, then it is something we're going to look at and figure out what went wrong -- if needed -- make changes to our processes to make sure it doesn't happen again," said Beck.
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