FBI raid at Odell's said to be part of corruption probe Club figure's dealings with officials questioned

September 06, 1992|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,Staff Writer

Last week's FBI raid on the beleaguered Odell's nightclub was part of a grand jury investigation of public corruption in Baltimore, an attorney for the closed nightspot's president said.

Edward Smith Jr., the lawyer representing Milton Tillman, president of 19-21 Inc., Odell's corporate owner, said the U.S. attorney's office in Baltimore informed him that the raid was part of a city "corruption probe," but added that federal authorities refused to be more specific.

Law enforcement sources, however, told The Sun that a grand jury was investigating Mr. Tillman's dealings with some public officials.

Mr. Smith said Friday night that federal authorities have not told Mr. Tillman whether he is a target of the investigation.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary P. Jordan -- who is overseeing the probe, according to Mr. Smith -- refused to comment. The FBI would say only that the raid was part of an ongoing investigation.

In addition to Tuesday's raid on the club at 21 E. North Ave., FBI agents also searched Mr. Tillman's private East Baltimore residence, executing a search-and-seizure warrant as well as a grand jury subpoena, Mr. Smith said.

Mr. Smith said no guns were found at the club, but it was unclear whether any guns were retrieved from Mr. Tillman's home. No drugs were seized at either location, he said.

The search-and-seizure warrants, signed by U.S. Magistrate Judge Daniel E. Klein Jr., specified, among other items, a certain bag that was supposed to contain $10,000 in cash, Mr. Smith said. No such bag was retrieved, he said.

The grand jury was seeking business records pertaining to the club, "to determine membership and ownership of Odell's," Mr. Smith said.

FBI agents took two boxes of documents and a computer out of Odell's, authorities have acknowledged. Agents seized other records at the house, the lawyer said.

Mr. Smith said the warrants did not include information from the affidavit that agents presented to the federal magistrate, indicating the affidavit is probably sealed. That information would have offered an indication of the investigation's focus.

"The absence of the affidavit they presented to Magistrate Klein leads me to believe they didn't want to tip their hand. We're just puzzled as to what's going on," Mr. Smith said.

He also questioned why the federal government would be investigating a local businessman.

"There doesn't seem to be any federal jurisdiction, but they must have something in mind if they're sticking their nose in state business," he said. "Maybe the feds want to get involved with the feeding frenzy at Odell's."

The Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals voted Aug. 25 to deny Odell's application to remain open as a dance hall, basically shutting down the nightspot, which has been blamed for a rash of shootings and violence in the neighborhood around the club.

Wednesday, Baltimore Circuit Judge Ellen L. Hollander agreed to postpone a final ruling on the city's request to throw out an earlier court-approved agreement that allowed Odell's to stay open until resolution of the zoning case.

Judge Hollander agreed to the delay -- provided that the club remain closed -- at the request of Odell's lawyers and over the objections of a city lawyer. She granted the postponement to give lawyers for both sides time to submit briefs supporting their arguments. She said she would rule Oct. 1.

Although the city revoked Odell's zoning permit to operate as a private club last year, and since has gone to court twice to close the establishment for non-compliance, the nightclub has managed to keep its doors open under court-approved agreements that imposed conditions on the club's operation.

Mr. Smith said federal authorities told him that both he and Mr. Tillman would find out more this week.

"I think there's a possibility that if there's anything going on, that it originated from local people -- either politicians or public officials," he said.

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