Baltimore liquor board trial begins

Ex-delegate, inspector accused of scheme involving taverns

Schmoke due to testify

Defense claims witnesses received cash, immunity

January 06, 1999|By Walter F. Roche Jr. | Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF

In the city liquor board corruption trial that opened yesterday, the prosecutor described an alleged 10-year conspiracy masterminded by a former state delegate to shake down Baltimore bar and tavern owners for thousands of dollars in bribes and protection payments.

Assistant State Prosecutor Thomas M. McDonough told the jurors that former Del. William J. Madonna Jr. and his "right-hand man," former chief liquor inspector Anthony J. Cianferano, manipulated the enforcement powers of the Baltimore liquor board to "generate money and political favors."

McDonough's statement, peppered with the names of such politically prominent figures as Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, was countered by attorneys for Cianferano and Madonna, who contended the bribery case was based on the unfounded allegations of prosecution witnesses whose testimony was paid for with promises of immunity and payments of cash.

Gary S. Bernstein, Madonna's lawyer, said prosecutors arranged for $2,100 in repairs to be made on a truck owned by one of the witnesses. Another witness, he said, was living on a rented houseboat at state expense.

Bernstein at one point acknowledged that Madonna was actively involved in illegal gambling activities, including sports and numbers betting, but, he said, his client never took or paid a bribe.

Bernstein said he would be calling Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke as a witness to refute charges made before the grand jury by one government witness that Schmoke was the recipient of an envelope that contained a $2,000 cash payment. The accusations regarding Schmoke were not included or alluded to in the grand jury indictment.

Cianferano and Madonna are on trial on charges that they conspired to thwart enforcement of state liquor laws and violated the state law against bribery. The charges were handed up by a city grand jury last year after a more than yearlong investigation.

McDonough told the 12-member jury yesterday that the decadelong scheme by Madonna and Cianferano was made possible by a deal between Madonna and Hoffman. Hoffman needed votes and political workers. Madonna wanted power over appointments to the liquor board.

"I'll deliver the votes for you. In return I want to appoint the inspectors," McDonough said Madonna told Hoffman.

Hoffman is expected to testify today as a prosecution witness.

Bernstein said the prosecution had targeted the bit players in the liquor board corruption case, instead of going after the political figures who controlled the system. Hoffman, he said, the chairwoman of a powerful Senate committee, would have ended up "a stone cold loser" without Madonna's help.

McDonough acknowledged to the jury that one of the prosecution witnesses, former liquor inspector Donald Harlow, "is not the kind of guy you'd want your daughter bringing home."

McDonough said that Harlow, who has a criminal record, will testify in detail about how the protection racket operated; how bar owners were warned in advance of impending inspections and how envelopes of cash were brought back to the Greenmount Avenue bar that Madonna owned.

He said a former bar owner will testify that after he paid money to Cianferano and Harlan, his prob- lems with the liquor board evaporated.

Bernstein and Samuel Blibaum, Cianferano's attorney, contended that what was going on at the liquor board amounted to political favors in a system permeated by politics.

Referring to the long-standing practice of liquor inspectors selling tickets to political fund-raisers, Blibaum said, "That's how it's done. It's not illegal. I'm not saying it's good."

The first prosecution witnesses to testify yesterday were former city liquor board chairman George Brown and the board's former executive secretary Aaron Stansbury. Both were questioned about complaints that the Twilight Social Club was operating illegally by staying open until 6 a.m.

McDonough told jurors the handling of the complaints on the Frederick Avenue bar will be a key element of the prosecution case which continues today. The former owners of the Twilight club are Michael Swidowich and Joy Nickey, who have pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiring to violate state liquor laws.

Pub Date: 1/06/99

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