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Drug bust at Buffalo Chips restaurant in Bonita
Drug bust at Buffalo Chips restaurant in Bonita: Drug bust at Buffalo Chips restaurant in Bonita. JESSIE VEGA/news-press.com
Buffalo Chips was open for lunch and dinner Friday, a day after four employees were arrested on drug charges. The restaurant's beer and wine license was suspended following the arrests. Its owners, Chip and Al Greenwood, say they hope the community continues to support their restaurant. / Mark Krzos/news-press.com

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1:10 A.M. — Al and Chip Greenwood say they feel betrayed after Lee County Sheriff's deputies stormed into their popular Bonita Springs family restaurant and arrested four employees for illegal drug sales.

"These were trusted employees," a distraught Chip Greenwood said from the outside patio of Buffalo Chips. "It's heartbreaking."

At 6 p.m. Thursday, 20 deputies swarmed the restaurant, 26620 Old U.S. 41, and arrested four employees after allegedly conducting 13 drug buys over the course of a month. The restaurant's beverage license was suspended.

Arrested were:

- Cooks and brothers Juan Vasquez, 38, and Paulo Vasquez, 28, for two counts of possession and sale of cocaine.

- Bartender Matthew Rutkowski, 41, for nine counts of possession and sale of cocaine and two counts of possession and sale of marijuana.

- Kitchen manager Angelo Gutierrez, 45, for three counts of possession and sale of cocaine.

A marijuana and cocaine pipeline at Buffalo Chips extended from the bar where Rutkowski worked to the kitchen where the Vasquezes and Gutierrez completed orders for "all the white (cocaine)" they needed for the evening, according to investigators. The sting was called "Operation White Buffalo."

Detectives say Rutkowski would meet undercover investigators in the bathroom to exchange money and marijuana.

When Rutkowski's marijuana connection dried up, detectives then asked about cocaine. Money and cocaine was then funneled in and out of the kitchen in a lidded styrofoam cup, they said.

The four men were terminated as employees of Buffalo Chips after their arrests, Chip Greenwood said Friday.

"Matt was a 15-year employee here. He was like a brother to me," Greenwood said. "It's unbelievable how he could look me in the face and do this behind my back."

Finding out Juan Vasquez was involved stung just as much.

"Dad helped him get his papers to become an American citizen. He rented a house for him and then he does this?" Greenwood said.

The four charged could not be reached for comment Friday.

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The busts lead to a temporary suspension of the restaurant's beverage license. As of Friday, the Greenwoods were waiting to hear about when it might be restored.

Capt. Sabrina Maxwell of the Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco could not be reached for comment.

Inside the restaurant, which was open for lunch Friday, there were about half as many customers as would be there on a typical afternoon. Diners ranged from young families to seniors.

June LaBar, 78, of Bonita Springs was eating lunch with three friends and said the bust wouldn't stop them from eating there.

"Why would it? We love it here," she said. "It's a wonderful place to eat."

Bonita Bay residents Roger and Nancy Espe have been patrons for nearly 20 years and said they never saw evidence of drug transactions.

"We have friends who come down from up north and this is always the first place they want to stop," said Nancy Espe, 68.

"We came here today to support Chip and the people who work here," said Roger Espe, 69. "We're always sitting at the bar. We come here twice a week and have never seen anything (suspicious)."

Al Greenwood, the restaurant's founder, said owners simply cannot keep all eyes on every employee at all times and had no idea his employees were allegedly engaged in criminal activity.

"I'm just concerned about our 60- to 70-year-old customers. I'm hoping that they don't get the wrong impression about our family-run and family-operated restaurant."

Chip Greenwood said he feels like he owes the community an apology.

"I feel horrible because of what this all looks like," he said. "There were families with children in here (Thursday) night."

Karl Schwippert, 42, of Bonita, said he's never seen evidence of drugs and criticized the officers' tactics.

"All that for $900 in drugs?" said Schwippert, noting he decided to show his support for the Greenwoods and their restaurant. "It was an isolated incident and, hopefully, it won't happen again."

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