Block nightclubs to fight in court for liquor licenses FTC

January 16, 1994|By Peter Hermann and John Rivera | Peter Hermann and John Rivera,Staff Writers Staff writers William F. Zorzi Jr., Sandy Banisky, Larry Carson and Michael James contributed to this article.

Baltimore's Block remained virtually shut down yesterday, unable to serve alcohol a day after state police seized liquor licenses at 24 nightclubs in a massive raid Friday night aimed at eliminating drug and prostitution activity.

While club owners were trying to determine last night whether they can reopen without liquor licenses, a lawyer representing 15 of the raided night spots vowed to be in court tomorrow morning to get the licenses returned.

"We know of no authority that the state police have to seize these licenses," said Robert B. Schulman, who represents the East Baltimore Merchants' Association.

"This in effect has closed [the clubs] down for a four-day holiday weekend."

Police said they arrested 52 people, many of them dancers and bouncers, and still have 50 outstanding warrants to be served, all involving people connected to the famed adult entertainment district that has been part of city lore since the 1920s.

"A lot of it is going to be shut down," said Col. Larry W. Tolliver, the state police superintendent, who oversaw the raid by 500 troopers, nearly one-third of the entire state police force. Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who worked out an agreement last year with Baltimore officials to offer state police help to the city, toured some of the raided clubs.

Police said they arrested The Block's major drug supplier and seized, among other items, 1 pound of cocaine and 112 pounds of marijuana.

Thousands of documents and business records also were seized, and Colonel Tolliver said investigators plan to follow a paper trail to trace owners and find possible tax violations.

"That aspect of the investigation is just beginning," said Lt. Gregory M. Shipley, a state police spokesman. "Those files will be reviewed to determine criminal violations. That investigation will be continuing for some time, possibly even months."

State authorities defended seizing the liquor licenses, saying the certificates will help them document how The Block is run and identify "hidden owners," according to city State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms.

"The search warrants did not usurp administrative action [by the liquor board] in drug cases," Mr. Simms said.

"It is all tied together with prostitution," Colonel Tolliver said. "They are paying people with drugs, the liquor was watered down. It is all interrelated. We had the right to take the licenses."

'Awfully unusual'

Marvin Bond, a spokesman for the state comptroller's office, which enforces state liquor laws, called it "an awfully unusual situation," but said state police do have the authority to seize the licenses. He said the owners would have to go to court to get the licenses back.

Baltimore City Circuit Administrative Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan said that liquor-license holders who go to court tomorrow may win their licenses back in that forum but still may be called before the city liquor board for a hearing.

The raid, one of the largest in Baltimore history, commenced at 8 p.m. when troopers spilled from six Ryder moving trucks parked in the 400 block of E. Baltimore St. and burst into clubs, rounded up patrons and detained people walking down the street.

Video and sex shops on The Block were not raided and were open yesterday. One club, The Stage Door, was raided, but its liquor license was not seized, and last night it was the only club open that was able to serve alcohol.

"They said, 'Well, you run a clean place. Sorry we had to do this, but it had to be done,' " said Stage Door owner Tony Pulaski, 45, who says he has a strict no-drug, no-prostitution and no-gambling policy. "I don't make a lot of money here, but at least I'm open."

At least one night spot, Club Miami, opened last night but served only sodas. Other night clubs were locked up tight, even their neon signs darkened. "It's not worth it," one owner said.

The massive state police operation, which included 15 members of the Maryland National Guard, stemmed from an extensive undercover operation in which troopers immersed themselves in the strip-club culture.

Armed with 60 warrants, police arrested 20 people with direct connections to The Block, including Adam Larry Woron, the manager of the Flamingo Lounge. He was charged with three counts of conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

Authorities said they seized 68 handguns and long guns, a television, a videocassette recorder, two cameras and a safe from Mr. Woron's home in the 1700 block of Middleborough Road, in eastern Baltimore County.

State police said a preliminary list of seized items from various clubs includes $38,990 in cash, 19 ounces of cocaine, 50 doses of LSD, 5 grams of heroin, three handguns, liquor and 33 video machines that authorities said were used for gambling.

"They came in and said 'Freeze, police,' " said a 20-year-old dancer from Villa Nova, a club on Custom House Avenue. "One of them threw me down on the ground. My hands were tied for two hours."

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