Club owners admit bribes Baltimore operators plead guilty to trying to break liquor laws

Pair implicates legislators

August 13, 1998|By Walter F. Roche Jr. | Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF

The owners of a Baltimore after-hours club have admitted that they regularly bribed city liquor inspectors and paid cash for tickets to political fund-raisers for two state senators to get protection from possible enforcement actions.

As part of a plea agreement filed in Circuit Court yesterday, the owners of the Twilight Social Club at 3212 Frederick Ave. detailed a protection scheme that spans six years and includes cash payments to several current and former inspectors.

Michael Swidowich, 59, and Joy Nickey, 42, the club's owners and operators, entered guilty pleas to a single charge of conspiring to violate state liquor laws. State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli agreed to drop two other bribery charges in return for their cooperation in the cases against three other defendants.

Scheduled for trial in September are former Del. William J. Madonna Jr., former chief city liquor inspector Anthony J. Cianferano and inspector Michael Hyde. All have entered not guilty pleas.

Under yesterday's agreement, which was approved by Circuit Judge Mabel Hubbard, the two club owners will pay $500 in fines apiece and be placed on probation for three years. They also agreed to give up their liquor license.

Donald Daneman, the attorney for Swidowich and Nickey, said the plea agreement was "in the best interests" of his clients. He said his clients only became entangled in the case because of bad advice from another lawyer.

The new details of the liquor board protection racket are spelled out in a seven-page statement of agreed facts filed by Assistant State ProsecutorThomas M. McDonough to support the plea agreement.

According to that statement, the club owners paid cash for tickets to political fund-raisers for state Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman and former state Sen. John A. Pica Jr., both Baltimore Democrats, and bribed inspectors so they would be warned in advance of any enforcement actions.

"In order to operate without fear of effective enforcement action against them, defendants Swidowich and Nickey bought campaign tickets from liquor inspector Anthony Cianferano, and paid cash bribes to liquor inspector Donald Harlow and an unindicted liquor inspector," the statement reads.

Prosecutors said that the club was open every Saturday and Sunday from 1: 30 a.m. to 6 a.m. though state law required that it be closed at 2 a.m.

In one case, the statement details, Cianferano and another inspector went to the club at 3 a.m. when it was operating in violation of state law, but instead of citing the club they provided Swidowich and Nickey with tickets for a Pica fund-raiser.

"Defendants purchased the tickets to ensure they would continue to be warned against impending enforcement action. Neither the unindicted inspector or Cianferano said or did

anything about the operation of the club after hours at that time," the record states.

"Cianferano," the statement continues, "regularly provided tickets to political affairs for Sen. Hoffman, which the defendants were expected to buy." Often, the report said, the payments were in cash, which is prohibited by state law.

Allegations denied

Pica, who resigned his Senate seat last year, and Hoffman said yesterday that they didn't know Swidowich or Nickey and that they had no knowledge of the ticket purchase allegations.

"The first time I heard their names was in a recent liquor board story," said Pica. "I've never even met these people. No one ever accepted cash for any tickets in any of our campaigns. I absolutely have no knowledge of these people selling tickets to any of my events."

Hoffman said the prosecutor's statement was inaccurate in describing her as Cianferano's sponsor.

'I inherited him'

"I inherited him," she said, noting that Cianferano was originally sponsored by her predecessor in the Senate seat, Julian L. Lapides. Hoffman did back Cianferano's promotion to chief inspector in 1992.

As for the selling of tickets, Hoffman said, "I don't know anything about it."

The prosecutor's statement also details the role of an unnamed state employee, who acted as a go-between in the alleged protection scheme. In fact, Swidowich and Nickey were told that if they had used the "magic name" of that state employee they would never have been cited at all.

The first bribe, $50 in cash, was paid in 1992 shortly after the two defendants took ownership of the club, the record states. The other bribes ranged up to $500.


"The state employee," the record states, "introduced defendant Swidowich to Anthony Cianferano," who provided Swidowich with his business card and "wrote his pager number on it."

The unidentified state employee, prosecutors say, also introduced Swidowich to the "relative of a public official" who told him "if he ever needed help to call."

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