Former inspector key to liquor board probe Marion Turner fights to get her job back with Baltimore panel

May 19, 1998|By Walter F. Roche Jr. | Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF

She is, prosecutors and investigators say, the one who more than anyone else made it happen, the driving, relentless force that led prosecutors to pursue the recent indictments at the Baltimore liquor board.

And Marion P. Turner, the former liquor board inspector who is fighting to get her job back, isn't shy about it.

"If nothing else I am responsible for what happened," Turner said flatly last week.

State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli agrees, stating that information provided by Turner in her court fight to regain her job was "one of the reasons we started the investigation. She was helpful. She's been a great deal of help," he said, adding that he does not normally comment on such matters.

What happened at the liquor board was this: A Baltimore grand jury early this month indicted the board's chief inspector, a current and former inspector and three others, including a former state legislator on bribery charges.

"It was no surprise," said Turner.

It might not end there. While he said he has no plans to continue the investigation, Montanarelli said recently that he could not rule out more indictments.

Turner says that whatever happens with the indictments and the investigation, her fight won't end until she gets her job back.

"I can honestly tell you that I don't feel good about any of this, but wrong is wrong and right is right. It saddened me to see my colleagues get indicted. I feel bad for them and their families," Turner said in an interview last week at her attorney's office.

James Cabezas, the chief investigator in Montanarelli's office, says Turner is "a citizen hero. It's unfortunate that the former liquor board terminated her rather than applauding her for her courage."

He and others say it was Turner's whistle-blowing effort to get her job back that convinced them that something was seriously wrong at the liquor board.

Turner's five-year career at the city liquor board was cut short two years ago last week when former state Sen. Larry Young abruptly withdrew his sponsorship of her. Turner, the daughter of a steel worker and a nurse, had won the job in 1991 under a now-abandoned system under which members of the city's Senate delegation picked city liquor inspectors.

Turner has charged in her wrongful-termination suit that she fell out of favor with Young after he learned that an FBI agent had called her at the liquor board and asked her about him.

Turner says she refused to answer the agent's questions and reported the incident to her superiors.

A little more than two months later, after a meeting with Young and the chairman of the liquor board, Turner was told her time on the board was over. Young, she was told, wanted someone else to have her job. She filed suit May 30, 1996, charging that she was terminated for refusing to perform illegal acts, such as selling tickets to political fund-raisers.

In subsequent filings in her suit and in a long deposition and public statements, Turner charged that her falling out with Young stemmed from the then-senator's relationship with Kenneth A. Jackson, a felon who was seeking a liquor license for a jazz club to be called the Royal Cafe at 419 W. Fayette St.

Young wrote a letter to the liquor board in support of Jackson's application. Turner said Young did so despite knowing of Jackson's criminal record. Young denied knowing about the conviction but publicly defended his friendship with Jackson.

The jazz club never opened.

Turner also has charged that politics routinely influenced

enforcement by the liquor board.

Though the federal investigation fizzled, Turner's suit and her public allegations renewed interest in the liquor board by Montanarelli's office.

While Turner fights to get her job back, former friend and sponsor Young has lost his job. He was expelled from the state Senate on ethics charges in mid-January and remains the focus of state and federal grand jury investigations.

"I can't speak for Senator Young," Turner said when asked about the West Baltimore politician and childhood friend. "The truth has a way of coming out." The liquor board, which is being defended in the suit by state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., won a key legal battle against Turner last year when Circuit Judge Albert J. Matricciani Jr. threw out her case. The judge never issued a written opinion to back his decision and the proceedings in his courtroom were not recorded.

Both of those omissions were discussed May 7 when Turner's lawyer, Edward Smith Jr., urged the state Court of Special Appeals to overturn the Matricciani ruling. The court took the case under advisement.

In his brief supporting the Circuit Court action, Assistant Attorney General Sheldon H. Laskin wrote that Turner's case should be thrown out because her lawyers failed to file a notice of the impending suit with state or local officials.

He also argued that Turner had failed to prove that she was ever asked to do anything illegal regarding the Jackson license application or anything else.

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