Hinge owner Aaron Kater jailed on drug charges in Connecticut

Last modified: Monday, November 23, 2015

NORTHAMPTON — The owner and manager of The Hinge, a Main Street bar and music venue, was arrested this week by a drug squad in Connecticut after police say they found 35 pounds of marijuana packed into two large audio speakers in a car.

Aaron Kater, 29, of Pelham, was being held Friday in the Hartford area on a $250,000 bond and faces charges of possession of more than four ounces of marijuana; possession with intent to sell; conspiracy to possess more than four ounces and conspiracy with intent to sell.

Also arrested was the driver of the vehicle, David Loomis, 30, of Halifax, Vermont, on the same charges along with speeding, according to police. Loomis also is being held on a $250,000 bond.

The pair were traveling in a 2008 Subaru Outback with Massachusetts plates at a high rate of speed on Sullivan Avenue in South Windsor, Connecticut, when police stopped the vehicle. The traffic stop was part of an operation targeting “a street level narcotic dealer driving in and around the area,” according to a statement issued by the East Central Narcotics Task Force. Assisting the task force were the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and South Windsor Police.

Police said the marijuana was found in two large speakers in the cargo area of the car, evidence that remains in possession of the South Windsor Police Department.

Kater took over as owner and manager of The Hinge earlier this year from Brian Aussant, who opened the business in 2012. Northampton attorney Marvin Cable, who has handled some of Kater’s business affairs at The Hinge, said Friday that Kater’s arrest came as a surprise to him and that the bar has a manager in place to keep it running for now.

“Everything is covered,” Cable said. “He has a manager that runs the day-to-day operations.”

“Long term, I couldn’t tell you,” he said. “I’m just not a fortune teller.”

On Friday, a bartender declined to answer questions related to Kater’s arrest and asked a Gazette reporter to leave the establishment. City officials were in The Hinge moments earlier to conduct an annual liquor license inspection of the business. Kater is the manager of record on the liquor license and of Healthy Karma LLC, which owns the business.

Hinge was cited for a liquor license violation earlier this year when police found employees and friends drinking in a third-floor suite after hours during a February snowstorm.

The Northampton License Commission gave the business two months to improve its management, suspending a two-day loss of license penalty under certain conditions. During a violation hearing in April, Aussant, the former owner and off-site manager, told commissioners that Kater had assumed day-to-day operation of The Hinge the previous fall and that the two men were working out a change of ownership so that Aussant could leave the business entirely.

Aussant could not be reached for comment Friday, but in an email to the city on Wednesday — the same day Kater was arrested — he noted that he was still the primary lease holder and had been informed by the building’s landlord that insurance for The Hinge had been canceled, which concerned him.

“I believe it’s illegal to even operate without insurance,” Aussant wrote to Cynthia Murphy, clerk for the Northampton License Commission in his email, which the Gazette obtained through a public records request. “The soonest I can be in town to either shut the place down or have the locks changed is Friday afternoon.”

Aussant wrote that the landlord of 48 Main St., Tushar Mody, had urgently requested him to do something quickly.

“The landlord and myself think the business should be officially shut down for lack of insurance ...,” he wrote. Aussant informed the city later in the day that the insurance had been reinstated.

William Rosen, chairman of the License Commission, said Friday that the commission will await further developments and information involving Kater’s arrest before potentially taking any action on The Hinge’s liquor license.

“Anything has to follow due process,” Rosen said. “Anything here has to follow the law.”

Under state law, one cannot hold a liquor license if convicted of a felony.

Dan Crowley can be reached at dcrowley@gazettenet.com.


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