Ex-confidant of Young sues liquor board over firing One-time inspector says dismissal result of politics

June 12, 1996|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

A former Baltimore liquor inspector and one-time confidant of state Sen. Larry Young is trying to poke a hole in the city's political patronage system, challenging the time-honored tradition that was responsible for her getting a job -- and losing it.

Marion P. Turner, who was fired last month by the city liquor board at Young's urging, maintains that she lost her job simply because of political fallout from an FBI inquiry into the West Baltimore legislator's activities -- and not for her job performance over the past five years.

Turner, who was sponsored for her job by Young, filed suit May 30 in Baltimore Circuit Court against the Board of Liquor License Commissioners, asking a judge to block the hiring of a replacement and to reinstate Turner as an inspector.

She is seeking $100,000 in damages and another $50,000 in back pay.

She maintains that the patronage system -- in this instance, the system by which Baltimore's eight state senators control who's hired and fired by the city liquor board -- violates state law and city personnel procedures.

She also claims that the liquor board "conspired" with the state senators to violate the law by agreeing to hire job candidates "sponsored" by the senators.

"I think not to challenge it would be cowardice," said Edward Smith Jr., Turner's lawyer. "Marion Turner's decided to step up to the plate, and not be a coward, in the face of very powerful people."

According to the suit, Turner received a telephone call March 8 from FBI Special Agent Daniel C. Dreibelbis Jr. asking for "information which would point to any wrongdoing by Senator Young."

Turner alleged in the suit that Dreibelbis' call was transferred to her line by another Young appointee at the liquor board, Douglas Paige.

She maintains that she did not answer any of the agent's questions and reported the call to her supervisors at the liquor board.

The board suspended her without pay for three days for "disrespectful" behavior in a meeting about the phone call from the FBI, but did not take any further action until after a meeting May 3 that included Young.

After that, Young wrote to the board May 15 withdrawing his "sponsorship" of Turner and asking to be informed when her position would be vacant. She was fired nine days later.

"It's wild. It's incredible," said Smith, Turner's lawyer.

Aaron L. Stansbury, the liquor board's executive director, was out of town at a conference and unavailable for comment.

Board Chairman George G. Brown, who is appointed by the governor after a senatorial recommendation, declined comment because the case is pending.

Agent Dreibelbis, who is assigned to the public corruption squad of the FBI's Baltimore field office, referred all questions about the matter to the agency's spokesman, Special Agent Larry Faust.

Faust declined to comment on the suit or why Dreibelbis would have been calling Turner.

As for a possible probe of Young, he said, "We can neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation."

Efforts to reach Young were unsuccessful yesterday.

The suit is not specific about the reasons for the FBI's interest in Young and the liquor board.

But people familiar with the inquiry say it stems from the senator's affiliation with Kenneth A. "Kenny Bird" Jackson, a convicted felon who operates the Eldorado Lounge and strip club in West Baltimore. Jackson's arrest record includes a conviction on a felony weapons charge. In 1991, he was acquitted of murder.

Young wrote a letter to the liquor board last year supporting Jackson's efforts to open a jazz club and restaurant called the Royal Cafe, at 410 W. Fayette St.

The board initially approved a liquor license for the establishment last fall, but has since asked for additional information before allowing the transfer of the license to the Fayette Street address.

The club has not opened and reportedly is for sale.

Pub Date: 6/12/96

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