For more than two decades, David G. Paff ran pubs, first in Baltimore and then on Fort Smallwood Road, never imagining the trouble ahead at his third bar, Earleigh Heights Tavern.
Paff admits he lacked business savvy, so his wife always kept the books, paid the bills and renewed the liquor license each year. When Delores Paff died three years ago today, Paff struggled to keep Earleigh Heights going without her.
On Tuesday, two months after the county liquor board stripped the Severna Park bar of its liquor license, it slapped Paff with yet another penalty, its stiffest in more than 10 years.
"He lost complete control of the place," said Thomas E. Riggin, chairman of the Board of Liquor License Commissioners. "I really don't think the man knew what was going on. People took advantage of him. But drugs were being sold, and he pays the penalty for that."
The penalty, a fourth license revocation for a fourth drug charge, leaves Paff almost no chance of getting his license back on an appeal, Riggin said.
Paff, who is 62 with failing eyesight, says he couldn't see that his neighborhood pub had turned into what Anne Arundel County Police described as a narcotics drug store.
When customers began making frequent trips from the bar to the parking lot earlier this year, Paff suspected they were slipping out to their cars to drink six-packs of beer. He hired a bouncer, a former customer, to keep order. Never did he suspect drugs, he said.
Last June, more than a dozen undercover police officers staked out the Earleigh Heights Road bar after neighbors complained about disorderly conduct and drug trafficking. Police arrested 15 people, including six minors, on drug and alcohol charges.
The liquor board pulled the bar's license in September, though the tavern remains open pending Paff's appeals to Circuit Court.
These days things have quieted down at Earleigh Heights, neighbors who had urged the liquor board to shut down the bar said Tuesday. And customers from pre-drug days have returned, manager Bobbie Vickers said.
Months before losing his license, Paff, who has owned Earleigh Heights for six years and lives on the site, wanted to sell the bar and retire. He even signed a sales contract, but it hinges on whether he can keep his license.
Now, with the additional penalty, that appears unlikely, Riggin said.
During a hearing Tuesday night, the liquor board found Paff guilty of one additional charge of allowing drugs to be sold on his property.
On April 19, undercover police Detective James Giles went to Earleigh Heights between 10 and 11 p.m., sat at the bar and asked a woman seated next to him where he could buy cocaine. The woman directed the officer to the pool room, where he bought $50 worth of crack cocaine from a black male, Giles testified.
Police arrested Harold Nealy Jr., of Severna Park, Oct. 25 and charged him with one count of drug possession and one count of manufacturing or distributing drugs, District Court records show. Nealy, who Paff said worked for him as a bouncer, is being held without bond at the county detention center.
Paff told the board he had no idea the bouncer he'd hired to control what he believed were parking-lot beer parties was selling drugs instead.
"I needed someone who would be at the bar for me, to keep the noise down and keep the trouble down, then all of a sudden, bingo," Paff said. "All this happened, and I don't know what to do, because I did not know he sold the drugs."
Paff testified that he usually left the bar's management to either manager Vickers or to his daughter, who is legally blind.
"She has partial vision and couldn't see what was going on," Paff said.
"I wasn't aware of any drugs being sold in the bar or in the parking lot."
Vickers told the board she later found out that a woman named Jewel introduced the undercover officer to the bouncer. Vickers has since barred the woman from the tavern, she said.
"When you watch someone make 15 trips outside and come in, I told her we have a rule, you come in, you sit in one spot and that's it," Vickers said.
"You break the rule, you're barred."
The board ignored a plea by William L. Hudock, Paff's attorney, to dismiss the drug charge that stemmed from an incident prior to the June police raid.
"Since the license of this establishment has been revoked and is gone, except for the fact it is under appeal, this is a moot issue," Hudock said.
"Another violation is like beating a dead horse."
Police testified on the April 19 violation at a September hearing in which the liquor board revoked the tavern's license on three counts. But at that time, police had not formally reported the violation to the liquor board.
"If we'd had the report, we would have revoked the license four times," Riggin said. "I can't imagine we would have let him go on the fourth one."
The board also ordered Earleigh Heights closed five days, beginning early next week, on a charge of fraudulent application. Paff had allowed his deceased wife's name to be signed to his 1988, 1989 and 1990 license renewal applications, although he did not benefit from doing so, the board found.
Hudock argued that Paff had not tried to conceal anything by keeping his wife's name on each year's application.
"He was trying to conceal her death from the board," said Richard Bitner, liquor board member.
"Well, maybe he was trying to conceal her death from himself," Hudock said.