Liquor board dispute erupts into public view

Sun Staff

A behind-the-scenes power struggle between members of Baltimore's liquorboard flared into the open yesterday when two commissioners called forpunitive sanctions against the chairman and an investigation into corruptionaccusations leveled against them by the chief liquor inspector.

Claudia L. Brown and John A. Green Sr., members of the Board of LiquorLicense Commissioners, voted in a closed-door session Thursday to reprimandchairman Mark S. Fosler for failing to adhere to board rules and include themin certain decisions, such as recent raids on bars where illegal gambling tookplace.

Yesterday, they aired their grievances and scolded Fosler for interveningon behalf of chief liquor inspector Samuel T. Daniels Jr., who was suspendedfor investigating illegal gambling without board approval and discussing theraids with a reporter.

Fosler asked for a delay on the suspension until the board could get legaladvice, but other board members overruled him and the suspension went intoeffect March 21.

Charges at issue

"Everybody needs to know what is really going on," said Brown. "Responsiblepeople have been irresponsibly charged with illegal and unethical behavior. Itis simply not true."

In court documents filed in response to his suspension, Daniels has accusedBrown and Green of political collusion and corruption. He accused them offavoring certain bars and trying to replace him with assistant chief liquorinspector Vernon "Tim" Conway, the husband of state Sen. Joan Carter Conway,whose district includes The Block.

Daniels has made similar allegations against board executive secretaryNathan C. Irby Jr. and board attorney Jane M. Schroeder. Irby and Schroederhave declined requests for comment.

"The board has been accused of being corrupt and these are very seriouscharges," Green said. "That is why we have voted to have the matterinvestigated."

Green and Brown took up the issue at an executive session Thursday at CityHall, but refused to discuss the meeting with The Sun at that time.

In interviews yesterday, Fosler said he had no advance warning that themeeting would be held, and that he excused himself to seek legal advice.

Fosler said that by the time he returned, Brown and Green had voted on ahandful of motions, many of them directed at him or Daniels.

Fosler said he voted on two motions, including one to request aninvestigation by the state prosecutor, whose job it is to review charges ofmisconduct by public officials. He also voted on a motion that hisprofessional relationship with Daniels be investigated by the city's EthicsCommission.

"I have nothing to hide," he said.

The chairman said his efforts to enforce the city's liquor laws, includingthe use of investigations and raids, had upset Brown and Green.

Questioning of city statute

Fosler defended his actions regarding Daniels and questioned the citystatute that defines the powers of the liquor board chairman. Recent opinionsby the attorney general's office have also noted that language in the statuteneeds clarification.

"All I wanted to do was shine a flashlight into some of the shadowy areasto see if there were any illegal activities," Fosler said. "And now someonewants to take away the batteries."

Daniels, who returned to work Wednesday after a month without pay, has yetto receive notice of a court hearing on his complaint. Meanwhile, he has fileda separate grievance with the liquor board, said his attorney Arthur Frank ofBaltimore. The grievance will most likely be heard by the city's laborcommission.

Speaking for his client, Frank said yesterday that he was pleased theliquor board was seeking an investigation into the allegations of corruptionand political collusion. He said he had advised Daniels to not speak to thenews media for fear that board members would use it as an excuse to dismisshim. On his return to work this week, Daniels was placed on six monthsprobation.

"Any kind of investigation like that is very welcome," Frank said. "For theboard the best defense might be a good offense. This could be an effort todeflect attention from themselves."

Correction: An article in yesterday's editions about Baltimore's liquor board erroneously said state Sen. Joan Carter Conway's district includes The Block. Conway represents the 43rd District, which is north of downtown Baltimore.

The Sun regrets the error.

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