Detective's ownership in bar is investigated His 25% interest in Baltimore tavern is possible conflict

October 13, 1996|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore narcotics detective is part-owner of a South Baltimore bar -- an arrangement police officials are investigating as a possible conflict of interest.

City records show that the detective, Thomas B. Fore, purchased a 25 percent interest in the Ropewalk Inc. in November. That corporation's sole business is the Ropewalk Pub at 1209 S. Charles St.

Fore had a small role in a recent drug investigation in South Baltimore that officials termed "major," though the area under investigation included the Ropewalk and the targets of the investigation included Ropewalk patrons, Baltimore police Lt. Thomas Grimes and Detective Sgt. Jim Cappuccino said.

"Fore's involvement was very much on the periphery," Grimes said Friday night. "He was doing ancillary duty."

After learning that an article on Fore's involvement was being prepared, Cappuccino phoned a reporter to say that an article about the detective could compromise the investigation. Cappuccino, who said he was Fore's supervisor, said that when Fore participated in the drug investigation, "I had no idea Fore was involved in this bar."

Department spokesman Sam Ringgold said Friday that Fore's ownership stake in the Ropewalk is under investigation by the department's Internal Investigation Division. He declined to discuss Fore further, but said that in general the department does not permit officers to own establishments that sell alcohol without approval from Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier.

If Fore did anything wrong, possible punishments range from guidance and counseling to termination, though punishments are likely to be light.

"It's obvious you can't own a bar," said Maj. Robert Novak of the department's Internal Investigation Division.

"It is our interpretation that officers are not permitted to have ownership in liquor establishments," Ringgold said.

In an interview, Fore said he was unaware of the internal investigation and added that he would like to be apprised of any violation so he could correct it. But, as far as he knew, his ownership stake in Ropewalk Inc. breaks no department rules, he said.

Interpretation of rules

Fore and Ringgold used the same sentence in the Police Department's rules to make their points.

A reading of the rule, issued in a Feb. 6 general order on officers' outside activities, makes this much clear: If the intent of the Police Department is to prevent officers from having any business contact with bars and taverns, then the Fore case demonstrates one potential loophole.

The order reads: "Secondary Employment shall not be connected, in any way, with any establishment or concern dispensing or selling alcoholic beverages unless specifically approved by the Police Commissioner." But the order does not specifically define "secondary employment," though Ringgold and Novak indicated the term includes outside business activities.

Fore said that he "respectfully" disagrees. He said the order refers only to employment -- that is, working in a bar -- and he does not work at the Ropewalk.

Even if the rule applies to ownership of a bar, Fore said he does not believe he is in violation. He noted that he owns 25 percent of the Ropewalk Inc., whose business address is the same as the bar, but not the bar itself. "It's no different than if I held stock in Budweiser," he said.

No commissioner approval

Fore acknowledged he did not specifically receive the commissioner's approval for his ownership. But he said he had consulted lawyers in an attempt to make sure he was following department regulations.

Fore, 30, joined the force in May 1992. He worked in the Northwestern and Southern Districts before being assigned to the Criminal Investigation Bureau, his current assignment, in August 1994. A handful of officers who have worked with Fore describe him as a good officer.

Application disclosure

Despite police officials' concerns about whether they were informed, Fore disclosed in the Ropewalk's liquor board applications that he worked for the Police Department, records show.

The Ropewalk and its owners (Mary Edith Episcopo owns 50 percent and Marc McFaul own 25 percent) informed the liquor board in writing that Fore's police salary, now about $33,000, and a $30,000 inheritance would help provide the money to purchase the business. "This is not any secret," Fore said. He said he is worried that disclosure in The Sun could affect his undercover work.

He rehabilitates properties in South Baltimore, he said, and wants to help rebuild a difficult relationship between residents and the business community.

"I've invested everything I have in South Baltimore," he said.

Focus of dispute

Last spring, after the Ropewalk applied for a seven-day liquor license and discussed expansion plans, the tavern became the focus of a neighborhood dispute, with some residents and even 1st District City Councilwoman Lois Garey complaining about noise at the bar.

The bar's owners sharply disputed that, and several neighbors and community leaders interviewed recently said the bar has been a good neighbor, attracting a young, professional clientele.

"It's not particularly loud," said Irene Skricki, who lives six doors away on South Charles. "We haven't had a problem."

Pub Date: 10/12/96

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