Former state delegate, 5 others indicted in city Probe of liquor board alleges bribe scheme

May 07, 1998|By Walter F. Roche Jr. | Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Peter Hermann contributed to this article.

A former state legislator and the chief inspector of the Baltimore liquor board were indicted yesterday on charges they were involved in a 10-year bribery scheme to thwart enforcement of state liquor laws.

The three-count indictment announced by state Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli accuses former bar owner and former Del. William J. Madonna Jr., 46, of masterminding a conspiracy under which he controlled the appointment and promotion of liquor license inspectors and then bribed them to go easy on bar owners, himself included.

Madonna, the former owner of a video poker machine business, resigned a day before the indictment was announced from a $46,000-a-year post with the state lottery, where he was a liaison with ticket agents statewide.

State Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, who helped him get the lottery job, also pushed unsuccessfully a little over a year ago to have Madonna named to the top administrative job at the liquor board. The job of executive secretary later went to former state Sen. Nathan C. Irby Jr.

Hoffman was out of the country yesterday and could not be reached for comment.

Among the five others also indicted yesterday was Anthony J. Cianferano, 45, the chief inspector of the liquor board and a longtime friend of Madonna's. A board employee since 1977, Cianferano earns $30,632 a year and has headed the enforcement unit for more than a decade.

Madonna and Cianferano were charged along with Michael J. Hyde, 42, a city liquor inspector, and Donald R. Cassell, 47, a former liquor inspector, of conspiring to block enforcement of liquor laws by paying bribes. If convicted, the four could face prison terms of up to 14 years and fines of $6,000.

Montanarelli said the 18-month probe "revealed a scheme extending between July 1988 and February 1998, whereby Madonna, through the control of appointments and promotion of, and payments to, certain liquor inspectors, protected himself and other selected licensees from the enforcement of the liquor law."

While Montanarelli said no definite plans exist to continue the probe, he would not rule out the possibility of other indictments.

'He's deeply disappointed'

Madonna's attorney, Gary Bernstein, said his client vehemently denied all the charges.

"He denies that he ever made any payments to anyone or that he ever acted improperly," said Bernstein. "He's deeply disappointed." Bernstein added that his client voluntarily surrendered to city authorities early yesterday.

He said Madonna had been advised that he was a target of the lengthy grand jury probe but was not called to testify.

Attorneys for the other defendants declined to comment.

Also named as defendants in the indictment were Michael J. Swidowich, 59, of Catonsville, owner of the Twilight Social Club at 3212 Frederick Ave., and Joy J. Nickey, 42, an employee of the club.

The two are charged with attempting to bribe a police officer to help prevent a complaint from being lodged against the club.

Swidowich and Nickey were charged with trying to bribe Sgt. Steven Burrier, an undercover Baltimore police officer, on Feb. 13. The officer reported the bribe attempt to his superiors.

All the defendants are to be arraigned June 19. A trial date has not been set.

Though the two-page indictment gives few details, Police Department and other sources described the lengthy investigation as one of the largest corruption cases undertaken by the department or the prosecutor.

Warning of police raids

According to sources familiar with the investigation, the scheme involved an organized system under which bar and club owners were warned in advance of raids or undercover operations. The raids were undertaken to detect underage drinking, gambling, prostitution and other violations of state laws.

Sources said that bar owners, in addition to being tipped off about raids, were able to arrange with board personnel to tamper with or destroy records showing prior violations and enforcement actions. Several bar owners are expected to be called as witnesses in the case.

"That has gone on in bars all over the city for years," said one Police Department veteran.

He said his officers many times would raid bars where undercover colleagues or sources had witnessed wrongdoing, such as gambling or prostitution, only to find the bar running lawfully when they went in. He said police often sent in sources afterward, who were told by managers: "We knew the cops were coming."

Evidence collected in the case, sources said, also involves the sale of tickets to political fund-raisers by board employees.

Montanarelli refused yesterday to discuss any details of the investigation or to elaborate on the charges. He declined to comment when asked whether the probe involved wiretaps or other electronic surveillance, or whether bar owners or other liquor board employees had been granted immunity in return for their testimony.

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