Inspectors say councilman interfered in store closing D'Adamo allegedly said he'd cut health budget

February 28, 1997|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF

A Highlandtown grocery store, shut down by the health department when mice feces were found on walls and shelves, was abruptly reopened after a city councilman threatened inspectors with cutting the agency's budget, health officials allege.

First District Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr., vice chairman of the Budget and Appropriations Committee, denied the allegations yesterday.

Health inspectors said in a departmental report obtained by The Sun that D'Adamo interfered in the inspection of Santoni's Market on East Lombard Street as they were tallying violations.

D'Adamo "was getting angry and he told [the inspectors] that he was going to cut our budget," inspector Jerry Welch wrote in his health inspection report Tuesday.

D'Adamo said yesterday that he was angry that inspectors seemed to be nitpicking and amplifying the slightest flaws in a business that has served his district for decades.

"I always play by the rules," D'Adamo said. "I would never do anything that would hurt any citizens health-wise. I was just trying to help a businessman who asked for help."

Health department officials said that because inspectors felt threatened by the councilman, rules were ignored and the store was permitted to reopen hours after it was closed without another inspection.

"Clearly, it is not appropriate to threaten our staff members with budget cuts," said Dr. Peter Beilenson, the city's heath commissioner, "Additionally, it is not a terribly bright thing to do."

Santoni's Market was forced to close Monday after inspectors reported gnawed food and mouse droppings on walls and shelves and in a walk-in refrigerator. The department had received a complaint that mouse droppings had been found in bread sold at the store.

Owner Bob Santoni was instructed to remedy the violations, and inspectors were to return the next morning. If all violations had been remedied by then, the store was to be allowed to reopen.

Instead, the market was allowed to reopen hours after it closed when Santoni asked D'Adamo to intervene on his behalf with city health officials.

About 10 p.m. Monday night, D'Adamo called on-duty inspector Joseph Lewandowski, who had never been to the market.

D'Adamo said he told Lewandowski that Santoni was doing a good job alleviating the problems and that Santoni should be able to open in the morning before inspectors returned so that he wouldn't lose business.

"I said, 'Is there any way the guy could open up at 7 a.m.' He said 'Yeah, I don't see no problem with that,' " D'Adamo recalled.

Lewandowski said that D'Adamo "indicated that he was on the budget committee that reviewed the budget for the health department."

Lewandowksi approved the reopening of the store on the condition that health inspectors could come to the store the next morning and close it again if the violations had not been corrected.

"Clearly, that should not have been done," Beilenson said. "That was an error."

Two health inspectors who went through the store Tuesday morning were confronted by an angry D'Adamo, who threatened to cut the budget and questioned whether they gave the same treatment to every store in the city, the health department report said.

The inspectors allowed the store to remain open.

Santoni said he had put steel plates in the walls, plugged holes and cleaned the store. D'Adamo did not threaten to retaliate against the health department if the store was not immediately reopened, he said.

"I did what I would do for any person in my district," D'Adamo said. "Somebody made a big stink over nothing. I think it is totally unfair because a couple of mice got into the store."

Beilenson said the investigation of Santoni's was not closed and that the department will conduct a surprise inspection soon.

Pub Date: 2/28/97

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