Subpoena demands liquor board data

A city grand jury has subpoenaed thousands of documents from the Baltimore liquor board, including inspection reports for Power Plant Live and Norma Jean's, a strip bar on The Block, according to court documents and interviews.

The subpoena, which was issued last week, also calls for the liquor board, a state agency, to produce copies of personnel files, payrolls, expense payments to employees for food and mileage, agency-issued cell phone records, annual reports and agency audits from 2000 to the present.

The subpoena was sparked by an investigation of the Baltimore City Board of Liquor License Commissioners by the state prosecutor.

The investigation follows allegations of corruption made by chief liquor inspector Samuel T. Daniels Jr. against former commissioners Claudia L. Brown and John A. Green Sr., and board Executive Secretary Nathan C. Irby Jr. and Deputy Executive Secretary Jane M. Schroeder.

Brown and Green responded to Daniels' allegations - laid out in a lawsuit filed in city circuit court - with a request for an investigation by the state prosecutor, an action they said would prove they had done nothing wrong.

Irby, a former state senator from East Baltimore who has headed the agency for about eight years, has also welcomed a review.

More recently, a newly reconstituted liquor board has focused its attention on liquor license brokers who hold on to inactive licenses for years in hopes of selling them for a profit. State law requires that dormant licenses expire after 180 days without an extension, or a maximum of 360 days.

In recent weeks, liquor board Chairman Mark S. Fosler and new Commissioners Jeffrey B. Pope and Edward Smith Jr. have voided five inactive licenses, including one that belonged to longtime liquor license broker Gilbert Sapperstein, who recently pleaded guilty to bribery, theft and conspiracy in a scheme to steal $3.3 million from the city school system.

As part of a plea deal, Sapperstein agreed to pay back the money and serve 18 months in jail.

Fosler had a list of dozens of inactive licenses forwarded to the state prosecutor's office recently but said yesterday that he didn't know whether it would play into the grand jury investigation.

'A surprise to me'

"The subpoena was a surprise to me," Fosler said. "I wish I knew what they were after."

Fosler said the board would comply with the grand jury subpoena by the Sept. 9 deadline specified in the subpoena.

"It's a daunting task to put all of this information together so quickly, but we will do our best," he said.

State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh declined to comment on the subpoena.

David S. Cordish, a Baltimore developer and creator of Power Plant Live, did not respond to requests for comment yesterday. A spokeswoman said Cordish was not aware of the subpoena and that he had not spoken to anyone from the state prosecutor's office.

The grand jury subpoena specifically requests information about Power Plant Live, including its liquor license "application, any and all communications and correspondence, file cards, inspections and violation reports, minutes of meetings, and transcripts of any and all hearings."

Power Plant Live's liquor license allows patrons to stroll, drinks in hand, on a large outdoor plaza that connects restaurants, pubs and music venues under the Power Plant Live electric banner.

The name on the Power Plant Live liquor license is 34 Market Place Concessionaire LLC, a company with the same telephone number as Cordish's Baltimore company.

Isaiah "Ike" Dixon III, an attorney for Peter Ireland Sr., who owns Norma Jean's, said his client had been interviewed this month by members of Rohrbaugh's staff, who asked him about the liquor board.

"I guess they were looking to see if he was the victim of any mistreatment by the liquor board," Dixon said. "They were interested in knowing about any relationships between the liquor board people and some of the elected officials. They were really interested in whether he knew about any payoffs or favorable treatment."

Liquor board commissioners - who discipline problem bars - are appointed by state senators from the city, most of whom have received generous campaign contributions from Ireland in recent years.

Since 1999, Ireland has contributed $11,800 to state senators from Baltimore, according to Common Cause Maryland, a watchdog group based in Annapolis that monitors campaign finances.

Sen. Joan Carter Conway, whose husband, Vernon "Tim" Conway, is a liquor inspector, received $4,200 from Ireland during that period, according to Common Cause.

Last year, Senator Conway introduced legislation that would have limited police powers to enforce laws in city taverns. The bill upset police officials, and Conway killed it before it could be voted on.

Lawsuit was dropped

Senator Conway - who Daniels alleged tried to get him fired so that her husband could have his job - has denied any involvement with the liquor board.

Daniels eventually dropped the lawsuit against the board.

Despite his contributions, Dixon said, Ireland received no special treatment from the liquor board. Agency records indicate that he has been cited and fined for several violations in recent years.

"He has not benefited in any way," Dixon said, adding that Ireland is to appear in Anne Arundel County court in October to answer charges that he violated state law during the last election cycle, when he contributed $12,920 to elected officials, nearly $3,000 more than the legal limit for individuals of $10,000. Ireland could be fined $5,000, his attorney said.

Dixon said prosecutors who interviewed Ireland asked him about Sapperstein, who owns several businesses, including a boiler company and a vending operation that leases electronic poker games to bars.

Licenses resold

Court records show Sapperstein has had control of dozens of liquor licenses over the years. He held many of the licenses as collateral on loans he had made to bar owners, often at high interest rates. If a bar owner failed to make good on a loan, Sapperstein would take over the liquor license and sell it to someone else.

Ireland "has known Mr. Sapperstein for a long time," Dixon said. "That's what he told prosecutors. He told them he knew [Sapperstein] had been involved in some of the liquor licenses on The Block, but he didn't know of any wrongdoing."