Taped warning of bar investigation played

Defendant heard telling inspector to give bar advance information

January 16, 1999|By Walter F. Roche Jr. | Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF

The chief inspector of the Baltimore liquor board told one of his inspectors early last year to warn the operators of a Fells Point bar of an impending undercover investigation into underage drinkers.

In a wiretapped telephone conversation played yesterday in Circuit Court, Anthony J. Cianferano, the chief inspector, called inspector Michael Hyde and instructed him to call the Fells Point Cafe and warn the manager that police were planning to send in underage drinkers.

"It would be a good idea if you can get hold of him and tell him that they put him on the list," Cianferano told Hyde in the conversation Feb. 12, 1998.

"All you have to tell him is that I told you what I just said," Cianferano said.

Mark Bernstein, the manager of the cafe, testified later yesterday that he received a call from Hyde that day.

The testimony and the playing of the wiretapped conversation came on the day Assistant State Prosecutor Thomas M. McDonough wrapped up his case in the bribery and conspiracy trial of Cianferano and William J. Madonna Jr. The two are charged with engaging in a 10-year conspiracy to thwart enforcement of state liquor laws.

Bernstein also testified that he paid $2,000 to $3,000 to former liquor inspector John B. "Bernie" Martin over several years after the bar opened. He said Martin asked him to cash personal checks, all of which bounced.

Asked why he didn't press Martin to make the checks good and why he continued to take the checks, Bernstein said, "Because he was a liquor inspector."

The bar manager said Martin also got him to buy tickets to political fund-raisers, including 50 tickets to an event for former state Sen. John A. Pica Jr., a Baltimore Democrat.

Asked what he expected in return for buying the tickets and cashing Martin's checks, Bernstein said, "Easing up by the liquor board."

Bernstein said he was told that some of the political fund-raising tickets came from Madonna, but under cross-examination he said he had not met or spoken with the former Democratic state delegate from Baltimore.

Another witness, Athanasio Markides, former owner of the Aegean Restaurant on Eastern Avenue, said he began making payments to liquor inspector Donald J. Harlow shortly after becoming a part owner in 1994.

Markides said the payments to Harlow were made to allow the club to remain open after the man- datory 2 a.m. closing time. He said the payments ranged from $200 to $1,400. Harlow had testified that the largest payment was $2,000.

The former restaurant owner said Harlow told him that, to stay open after hours, he would have to make friends downtown. Asked to whom Harlow was referring, Markides said, "The only name that he was referring to was Tony. He runs the liquor board."

Asked whether he knew who Tony was, Markides said he didn't.

Markides said the payments to Harlow and other expenses forced him to close the restaurant.

In other testimony yesterday, an investigator from the state prosecutor's office played the tapes of wiretapped conversations between Cianferano and the owners of two Park Heights bars that had been cited for failing to comply with a regulation for the licenses they held that required them to provide drinks on the premises in addition to selling package goods.

In a Feb. 14 conversation with the owner of Knight's Liquors, Cianferano told the caller that he had previously warned him that an inspector might be coming in.

"Don't you remember I told you in the next couple weeks they were going to do that?" Cianferano asked, adding that the store owner still need not be concerned despite the violation.

"All right, well, I'll get the report. We'll, we'll talk it over. Let's see what [the inspector], let's see what he gives me," Cianferano said. " 'Cause maybe what I'll even do, I'll even get him to go back. But don't worry about it"

In another wiretapped conversation played yesterday, Madonna told the owner of a bar not to worry about a citation from a police officer for underage drinking.

The police "get a report, and they turn it in to the liquor board, and then that's it. It stops right there. Nothing happens. The liquor board investigates you, which I'll take care of."

Pub Date: 1/16/99

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