Salt 88 is a well-reviewed and highly regarded restaurant in Omaha. The owner, John Horvatinovich, is a hands-on kind of guy, often working there himself and making sure the business is run in a manner consistent with his values. But it’s this hands-on approach and values-based management that has gotten Horvatinovich in trouble with local police, who have taken exception to his attempts to prevent underage drinking. Now Horvatinovich is being charged with interference with a government operation.

The initial warning

It all began back in August when a pair of 17-year-olds came in and tried to order some alcohol.

Being a responsible business owner, Horvatinovich refused them and asked them to leave. But he took it a step further, opting to warn others about the kids by tweeting a photo of them, taken from security footage, and telling of their attempt to imbibe. The problem is, they were working with the cops as part of an entrapment sting.

The operation was compromised and police were unable to try to deceive seven other businesses, much to their chagrin. Rather than commending Horvatinovich for attempting to stop children from buying booze, they are upset that he chose to be a good citizen. He went on trial this week, facing up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine. When asked about his prospects, Horvatinovich was not terribly optimistic, either.

“I feel 60 percent they’ll find me guilty because the evidence that was presented to them should never have been presented,” he told KETV.

Protecting the public, or a game of gotcha?

Police take a different view, however, and are basing their case on the use of the word “sting” in Horvatinovich’s original tweet, which was deleted once he learned it was a police operation.

They claim that only industry insiders know what that term means and that he was intentionally sabotaging their operation. But Horvatinovich is not taking it lying down. He pleaded not guilty to the charges, opting to state his case in court. His attorney summed up their defense:

“How is it possible that Mr. Horvatinovich could have known that night that these two were off the street, that they were actually part of a government operation?

He has a responsibility and a right to notify other businesses so it doesn’t happen to them.”

The verdict

The six person jury began deliberating on Tuesday, and a not guilty verdict was reached Wednesday afternoon.