Owner of Odell's given top penalty for bribery BALTIMORE CITY Judge orders 27 months, $15,000 fine

April 24, 1993|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

A tearful plea by Odell's nightclub owner Milton Tillman did not dissuade a federal judge from sentencing him yesterday to the maximum penalty for trying to bribe a member of the Baltimore zoning board.

Senior Judge Alexander Harvey II sentenced Tillman to 27 months in prison -- a penalty that was even harsher than the one prosecutors had recommended.

The judge also fined Tillman $15,000 and ordered him placed on three years' probation after his release. He allowed him to remain free on bond for 30 days before reporting to prison.

"This bribery scheme is not a crime to be taken lightly. You are an extremely manipulative individual," Judge Harvey told Tillman in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. "It's time you realize that you cannot flout the law with impunity."

The judge noted that Tillman had three previous felony convictions and was on probation when he tried to bribe Giovanna A. Blattermann, a member of the Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals last August.

Tillman, 36, angered the judge with a statement he made immediately after pleading guilty Feb. 8. He told his federal probation officer that the money was a political contribution instead of a bribe. "That hardly indicates that the defendant, in his own mind, has accepted responsibility for his action," said Judge Harvey.

Robert B. Schulman, Tillman's lawyer, said his client has acknowledged his guilt.

"This is not a picture of a man who has disdain for the system," Mr. Schulman said as Tillman sat beside him in a gray, double-breasted suit, sniffling and wiping away tears.

Tillman, still sobbing as he began his statement before he was sentenced, said, "I was just trying to save my business and support my family."

Odell's was closed in August 1992 when the zoning board disapproved a request for the club to remain open as a dance hall, ending a protracted legal battle with the city over zoning violations. The popular nightclub had drawn a number of complaints from neighbors for several shootings that occurred in the vicinity of the North Avenue club and noisy crowds of young people lingering outside.

In July 1991, a gunman drove by the club and fired shots into the crowd outside, injuring six. Last July, five were shot outside Odell's when a young man pulled a handgun and started shooting into the crowd after someone bumped him.

Mr. Schulman said his client is trying to reopen the establishment, although Tillman is $910,000 in debt. Tillman receives $35,000 a year from rent on his properties and $40,000 in other income from his businesses, the lawyer said.

In the bribery case, Tillman worked through a go-between to offer Ms. Blattermann $30,000 in exchange for her vote to keep Odell's open. The intermediary, Marvin Harris, paid $20,000 to an undercover FBI agent posing as an associate of Ms. Blattermann. The rest was promised after the vote. Ms. Blattermann and two other board members voted against Odell's in the zoning matter. Tillman was arrested when he tried to recover the money.

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