The Baltimore City Board of Liquor License Commissioners voided yesterday a bar license that had been inactive for about three years - a clear violation of state law that prohibits licenses from going unused for more than 180 days, or 360 with a hardship extension.
Board Chairman Mark S. Fosler said the board voided James C. Quigley's liquor license as part of a crackdown on dozens of dormant licenses and the brokers who hold onto them for future sale. City liquor licenses fetch between $50,000 to $100,000.
Quigley objected to the decision, saying he felt like he was caught in the "tail wind" of the newly reconstituted board's efforts to bring order to the state agency, which has long been a bastion of political patronage. Quigley said he was no broker, and that opening his own restaurant had been a childhood dream.
Quigley said he ran into trouble soon after he bought his bar at 633 Portland St. in Ridgely's Delight. The front and side walls of the 19th-century brick building were bowed and had to be rebuilt, brick by brick. Timbers in the floors had termite damage and also had to be replaced.
"It was circumstances beyond my control," Quigley said.
Fosler and Commissioner Jeffrey B. Pope said they sympathized with Quigley, but added that his license should have died long ago.
"This is no reflection on you or the progress you have made," said Pope, who was appointed to the board along with Edward Smith Jr. last month by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. They replaced members Claudia L. Brown and John A. Green Jr. Smith did not attend the hearing because of a scheduling conflict.
Fosler said the board had "no other choice" but to void Quigley's license. He said it was his opinion that the 180-day law, which was approved by the General Assembly in 1999 in an effort to shut down brokers, "hurts the little guy."
Nonetheless, the new board has vowed to wage war on inactive licenses as well as the brokers who make a business of selling them.
Five licenses voided
Since last month, the board has voided five inactive licenses, including one held by Gilbert Sapperstein, a longtime liquor license and bar broker who also owns a company called Star Coin Machine Co. that leases poker games to bars. Liquor board records show that Sapperstein sometimes required bar owners to put his games in their bars as part of a license deal.
Sapperstein, who also owns All-State Boiler Service Inc., pleaded guilty recently to conspiracy, bribery and theft in a scheme involving fake work invoices that defrauded the city school system of $3.3 million. As part of a plea deal, Sapperstein agreed to pay back the money and serve 18 months in jail.
Liquor board records show that Sapperstein has control of at least two other licenses - both of which are in the process of being transferred. Liquor board officials said the licenses are valid, but their records also indicate that both licenses went unused for about a year before Sapperstein initiated the transfer process - in violation of the 180-day law.
It's unclear what effect Sapperstein's recent felony conviction might have on the status of those licenses. State law prohibits a person with a felony conviction from holding a liquor license, but Sapperstein's status as a broker, who doesn't actually operate a bar, complicates matters, according to the state attorney general's office.
As for Quigley, he said he would follow Fosler's advice and file for a restaurant liquor license, a process that requires a $400 application fee and proof of $500,000 capital investment, seating capacity for 75 people, and 51 percent food service.
Quigley said he expects to spend at least $500,000 before his bar opens and that it will meet the other requirements. When he heard that he would have to appear before the liquor board again to get his new license, he wasn't pleased.
"Oh, Lord," he cried.