President of Odell's charged with trying to bribe city official Alleged intention was to sway vote on keeping club open

September 16, 1992|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,Staff Writer

The president of Odell's nightclub and a Baltimore bail bondsman were charged by federal authorities yesterday with conspiring to pay more than $30,000 to a city zoning board member to win a favorable vote to keep the troubled North Avenue nightspot open.

Milton Tillman, president of 19-21 Inc., Odell's corporate owner, was indicted by a federal grand jury on one count of conspiracy to commit extortion for allegedly attempting to sway the vote of Giavonna A. Blattermann, the zoning board member, through a middleman.

The alleged intermediary, Marvin Harris, a Baltimore bail bondsman affiliated with London Bonding Agency, was charged under a criminal information with one count of conspiracy to commit extortion in the same scheme.

Federal prosecutors allege that Mr. Harris acted as the intermediary between Mr. Tillman and Ms. Blattermann, and made two payments -- on Aug. 17 and Aug. 24 -- totaling $20,120. According to the indictment, in one of the payments Mr. Harris allegedly delivered $10,120 to yet another intermediary acting for Ms. Blattermann.

On Mr. Tillman's behalf, Mr. Harris also allegedly promised Ms. Blattermann an additional $10,000 after the Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals voted Aug. 25 on a proposal that would have kept the club open as an after-hours dance hall. The board denied the proposal on a 3-1 vote -- with Ms. Blattermann voting against the plan -- in effect closing the club.

Voting with Ms. Blattermann were Barbara A. Green and M. Scott Smith. Herbert Brown voted for the proposal. The fifth board member, Chairman Lalit H. Gadhia, missed an earlier hearing on the Odell's plan and was absent from the vote.

According to federal prosecutors, Ms. Blattermann went to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, a one-time assistant U.S. attorney, after she allegedly was offered money Aug. 12. Mr. Schmoke reported the encounter to U.S. Attorney Richard D. Bennett and Bobby R. Gillham, special agent in charge of the FBI's Maryland-Delaware division.

That began an investigation, culminating in the charges yesterday, that included electronic wiretaps and recording, television monitoring and the use of an undercover agent, Mr. Bennett said at a news conference.

Throughout the investigation, Ms. Blattermann cooperated with federal authorities and was at no time the target of the probe, Mr. Bennett said.

"This speaks to the integrity of the process . . . and the integrity of Ms. Blattermann," Mr. Bennett said. Prompted by rumors and speculation, the U.S. attorney said, he felt compelled to note that there was "no investigation of Mayor Schmoke's office with respect to zoning."

Mr. Schmoke joined Mr. Bennett, Mr. Gillham and Gary P. Jordan and Kathleen O. Gavin, the federal prosecutors in the case, at the news conference.

"We believe a great deal in the integrity of our zoning process," Mr. Schmoke said. Edward Smith Jr., Mr. Tillman's lawyer, described the case as "very, very interesting" but declined to comment specifically. "It's going to make kind of a soap opera in Baltimore," he said.

Mr. Tillman, 36, of the 2400 block of Pinewood Ave., turned himself in to the FBI early yesterday afternoon and was fingerprinted and photographed, Mr. Smith said. He then was taken before U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul M. Rosenberg, who released him after Mr. Tillman's wife, Sandra, a bail bondswoman with AAAA Bail Bond Corp., posted their Northeast Baltimore home as a property bond.

Mr. Tillman is president of AAAA Bail Bond Corp., one of three locations FBI agents raided a week after the zoning board rejected Odell's appeal. On Sept. 1, agents raided Odell's, Mr. Tillman's home and the bail bond offices in the 2300 block of E. Monument St.

FBI agents were looking for two bags of cash containing a total of $20,000, but neither bag was found, according to federal records. Agents seized business records, computers, disks, two handguns and ammunition in the raids.

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