FARGO — Fargo city commissioners voted unanimously to grant a liquor license to the Africa International Restaurant & Night Club on Monday night, July 29, despite recommendations to deny the license from the city's Liquor Control Board, city auditor and police.

The Liquor Control Board, city auditor and police recommended the license be denied because of concerns with the criminal histories of the original applicants and the credit history of a later applicant.

Francis Brown and Corey Schultz had requested the license for the former and currently vacant JT Cigarro's bar building at 4554 7th Ave. S.

However, after it was found Brown had a felony conviction within the past five years and a license denial would be recommended, the restaurant and club changed the liquor license applicant to Brown's wife, Mballu.

Francis Brown was convicted of theft of over $10,000 in Iowa in 2015, which was within the time frame for the liquor license denial, and also had a 2007 conviction for theft by deception.

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Schultz, of Ashley, N.D., also had a felony conviction in 2004 for delivery of a controlled substance.

However, with Schultz's conviction more than 15 years ago and the Browns using Mballu's name on the revised application, commissioners seemed satisfied the club's owners would act responsibly.

Those issues aside, Mballu Brown had a poor credit history of two personal loans with unpaid balances in excess of $15,000 and three credit accounts with unpaid balances, according to a report from City Auditor Steve Sprague, who manages liquor licensing.

In addition, the Browns, who also own and operate the Liberian Merry Go Round restaurant, were in arrears on their utility bill with the city, Sprague said.

However, the restaurant's lawyer, Stephen Baird of Fargo, said Mballu Brown had cleared up most of the past due accounts and that the two other accounts totaling about $15,000 were loans taken out by her ex-husband, who did so without her knowledge.

"It would be remarkably unfair" to hold her responsible for those unpaid loans, Baird told commissioners.

Commissioner Dave Piepkorn, the only one to vote in favor of granting the license at the Liquor Control Board meeting where it was recommended for denial 4-1 earlier in July, said he was going to vote to grant the license because the operation provided a restaurant and nightclub for "an overlooked diverse population" and because the building had been vacant for some time.

Both Piepkorn and Commissioner Tony Gehrig said they thought Mballu Brown had taken responsibility to solve some of her credit problems and that some of the issues weren't her fault.

Schultz had no reported credit issues.

Commissioner John Strand asked for Schultz and Mballu Brown to speak before the commission.

In response to Strand's questioning, Schlultz said they planned to hire multiple chefs that would serve ethnic African cuisine and that his wife, who was in Ghana at this time, would provide entertainment at the nightclub as a singer.

"It's not really going to be a nightclub" like others, Schultz said.

Mayor Tim Mahoney asked Mballu Brown to have an attorney work to resolve her other credit problems.

After the meeting, Francis Brown said the group was "very, very happy" that the commissioners had finally granted the license after the process had dragged on for months.