Restaurants

Omaha restaurateur faces jail time for tweeting about underage beer buying sting

A restaurant owner in Omaha, Neb. faces up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine for a tweet exposing an underage alcohol buying sting.

A restaurant owner in Omaha, Neb. faces up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine for a tweet exposing an underage alcohol buying sting.  (iStock)

Social media has been known to cause trouble for some big brands but could it lead to jail time?

That’s what jurors are trying to determine as a northwest Omaha restaurant owner heads to trial for a tweet he sent exposing an underage beer sting operated by the Nebraska State Patrol.

John Horvatinovich, the owner of restaurant Salt 88, is facing a $1,000 fine and up to a year in prison for a post he sent out to followers-- some of whom were local restaurant and bar owners-- warning them of the ongoing investigation.

Last August, Horvatinovich tweeted photos showing the faces of the teens participating in the sting. “Omaha restaurant peeps: These two are trying to ruin your night w/sting operations in town,” Horvatinovich wrote in the now-deleted tweet. The photo in the post utilized images from Salt 88's own surveillance cameras.

In opening statements at trial on Feb. 6, Assistant City Prosecutor Makayla Maclin said that the communication compromised the investigation. “(The teens) couldn’t perform any more compliance checks as a result of the tweet,” she said.

But Carolyn Wilson, Horvatinovich’s defense attorney, argued that the tweet wasn’t a violation of law.

“It is not unlawful to take a picture of someone and post it online, if they’re in a public place,” she stated.

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According to the Omaha World-Herald, the restaurant owner has welcomed the opportunity to go to trial in an effort to prove his point.

“This was about principle, absolutely,’’ Horvatinovich said. “My wife usually says, ‘Oh, John, just let it go.’ This time she said fight it because it’s time for restaurant owners to stand up for themselves.”

The compliance checks, coordinated with a series of law enforcement agencies and Project ExtraMile, an organization dedicated to underage drinking prevention, have been conducted since 1997.

Now Horvatinovich, who isn’t being held in jail, is awaiting the decision from six jurors hearing the case.