Wiretaps tell of tip-off to club

Top liquor inspector, ex-delegate warn of raid, jury hears

January 13, 1999|By Walter F. Roche Jr. | Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF

A former state delegate with the assistance of his friend, the city liquor board's chief inspector, alerted the owners of a Frederick Avenue club to a police raid and then bragged to a former state senator about his actions, according to evidence in his trial.

The warning and the boast were detailed in a series of wiretapped telephone conversations played to a Circuit Court jury yesterday in the corruption and bribery trial of former Del. William J. Madonna Jr. and Anthony J. Cianferano, the former chief inspector.

The tapes -- 11 were played before yesterday's 4: 40 p.m. recess -- provided the strongest evidence to date in the case being argued by Assistant State Prosecutor Thomas M. McDonough. The two defendants are accused in an alleged decadelong scheme to circumvent enforcement of state liquor laws.

Peppered with obscenities, the tapes were edited to exclude items objected to by attorneys for the two defendants. The conversations played to the jurors included comments from Madonna ranging from biting criticism of President Clinton to praise of former state Sen. Larry Young for being "on our side."

Referring to the then developing Clinton sex scandal, Madonna said, "If we did that they'd want to put us in jail."

In one of the tapes played yesterday, Madonna tells former state Sen. John A. Pica Jr., "I did a big favor for a friend of yours two weeks ago. You know, ah, Mike [Swidowich] and Joy [Nickey] over at the Twilight [Social] Club."

Pica: "Ah huh."

Madonna: "Yeah."

Pica: "Oh, OK."

Madonna: "They love us, that's all I can tell ya, they love us."

Pica: "OK."

Other tapes played for jurors show that the favor referred to by Madonna was alerting the owners of the club, Swidowich and Nickey, that city police had planned to raid the bar for operating between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. in violation of state law. Swidowich and Nickey have pleaded guilty to related charges and are scheduled to appear as prosecution witnesses.

John Poliks, an investigator in the state prosecutor's office, testified that when police and liquor inspectors raided the club early last year, it was closed. Later, after hearing the telephone conversations, that Poliks said he learned why the raid failed.

In a Jan. 30, 1998, conversation with Swidowich, Madonna detailed how Cianferano called him after the chief inspector learned about the planned raid from a police official.

"So Tony called me immediately," Madonna told Swidowich, adding that "Tony wanted you to be on alert."

In the same conversation, Swidowich said he had gotten the warning, which Madonna had relayed through a friend. Swidowich expressed his gratitude.

"We appreciate that, we owe ya," Swidowich said.

"You don't owe me anything," Madonna replied. "I wouldn't, I'll be honest with ya, Mike, I wouldn't do it for money."

Defense attorneys have said that the comments by Madonna, made in a private telephone conversation, indicate that whatever favors were being done, they were not being done for money.

Many of the tapes show the exasperation of Cianferano and Madonna as they tried to figure out why police and liquor inspectors kept showing up unannounced at the club.

As Poliks explained to the jury yesterday, Madonna, Cianferano and the club owners were unaware that the scenario was being orchestrated from the state prosecutor's office as part of an effort to find out if the Frederick Avenue bar was being protected.

Poliks, using the cover name Frank Jensen, said he became a regular at the bar and offered advice to the owners on how to end the police raids. Poliks testified that it was he who instructed a city police officer to call Cianferano and tell him about planned raids.

The purpose, Poliks explained to jurors, was to see what action would be triggered and then to listen for the results on the wiretapped conversations.

As a cover story, the tapes disclose, Cianferano was told that a newly assigned police major ordered the raids because a relative of the major's kept coming home drunk from the club at 6 a.m.

In several conversations, Madonna assured Swidowich and Nickey that the problem was not with the liquor inspector, whom he and Cianferano could control, but with an unidentified police major who had a personal grudge against the club.

Madonna told Nickey in a Feb. 7, 1998, conversation that the inspector, Donald Fitzgerald, "is a goof. He's an absolute squirrel. Him I'm not worried about. I can take care of him through Tony."

Instead, Madonna said, he was worried about the police.

In a Feb. 10 conversation with Cianferano about police efforts to catch underage drinkers with undercover police cadets, Madonna said, "I know they can't get the drugs off the streets. But they go around with these cadets."

At another point, Madonna and Cianferano discussed whether it would be possible to have an adverse report on the Twilight Social Club removed from the liquor board files. Cianferano, however, said it was too late because the report was in the hands of other liquor board officials.

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