Protection scheme detailed

City bars paid to evade liquor laws, inspector testifies

Bribery trial continues

Owners were warned before inspections

violations overlooked

January 12, 1999|By Walter F. Roche Jr. | Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF

Thousands of dollars in cash payoffs were collected every week from bar owners, brought back to a Waverly bar and stashed in a back-room kitchen, the prosecution's chief witness in a city liquor board corruption case testified yesterday.

Donald Harlow, a former liquor inspector testifying under immunity, told city Circuit Court jurors that he collected up to $2,000 a week from the owner of the Aegean Restaurant on Eastern Avenue. In return the bar, like several others, was protected from enforcement of liquor laws, including a ban on after-hours operations, he said. Harlow said that as a result of the protection, the establishment was able to violate the after-hours rule every week.

Asked how the amount of the weekly payments was determined, Harlow said it ranged from $600 to $2,000. "If he [the owner] had a good week, we had a good week," he said.

The testimony came in the second week of the trial of former state Del. William J. Madonna Jr. and former chief liquor inspector Anthony J. Cianferano. The two are charged with bribery and engaging in a 10-year conspiracy to thwart enforcement of liquor laws.

Harlow came under attack later in the day when Madonna's lawyer, Gary S. Bernstein, raised a series of apparent inconsistencies between Harlow's testimony and prior statements he had made to state investigators and a grand jury.

"You're doing this for revenge. Isn't that what you told the grand jury?" asked Bernstein, who questioned whether Harlow kept some of the payoff money he claimed to have given to Madonna.

Harlow, appearing flustered at times, finally said he couldn't remember what he did with a $200 payoff from the owner of Circus-Circus, a bar on The Block.

Earlier, in direct testimony, Harlow went through a list of bars and restaurants from which he and other liquor inspectors collected cash payments for protection. When bars stopped paying, Harlow said, they were cited and fined.

When Assistant State Prosecutor Thomas M. McDonough asked Harlow to name his boss, he immediately identified "Billy Madonna." It was Madonna, he said, who talked him into taking the liquor board job.

Harlow, who began his testimony last week, said he first learned of the payoffs while working as a doorman at Madonna's bar on Greenmount Avenue in the early 1990s. He said he later went along with Donald Cassell when that inspector was picking up cash payments.

He said Cassell, who is being tried separately on identical corruption charges, put the envelopes of cash in his car's glove compartment and took them back to Madonna's pub. He said the cash was usually placed in an unused steamer in the restaurant's kitchen.

Asked what the payments were for, Harlow said, "For protection to help them out with their business."

In some cases, Harlow said, in return for payoffs, bar owners were warned in advance when inspectors or police were planning to make an unannounced visit. He said Cianferano sent him to one bar on two occasions to warn the owner that another liquor inspector would be making a visit.

In another case, Harlow said, he was asked to omit from an official floor plan an overhang that violated city zoning regulations. He said he complied, making it possible for the applicant to get a liquor license.

Harlow said that he and Cianferano made several inspections at Gator's Pub on York Road, ostensibly to check reports of underage drinking. They found the bar empty.

"The place was empty because they were called. Tony told me before we left. He told me we wasn't going to find anything because he already called," Harlow said.

Harlow also told the jury that Madonna asked him to sell tickets for political fund-raisers to bar owners, including an event for former state Sen. John A. Pica Jr. Harlow said he drew up a list of bars "we did favors for. Mostly every bar in Highlandtown, Fells Point and Greektown."

"If they didn't take them [the fund-raising tickets], then they'd have problems," Harlow said.

Under questioning from McDonough, who showed him several liquor board inspection reports on bars making protection payments, Harlow testified that the reports contained false information. For instance, a report on the Twilight Social Club on Frederick Avenue stated that inspectors found the bar closed on March 20, 1994. In fact, he said, he was told by Cianferano not to go to the club that day.

At the same club on a later date, Harlow said, one of the owners told him that Cianferano had said they could operate after hours. Harlow said he told the club operators he didn't believe them, but he held off on closing the bar until he could check with Cianferano. The owner, Harlow said, gave him $50 when they shook hands outside the club.

The former inspector said he received a call from Cianferano at 7: 30 a.m. the next morning summoning him to an alley near the chief inspector's house. At that meeting, Harlow said, Cianferano asked him why he went to the club.

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