Club alleges dark deed by rival

Hammerjacks owner dimmed billboard, Bohager says in suit

September 06, 2001|By Del Quentin Wilber and Tim Craig | Del Quentin Wilber and Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

Nightclub owner Damian Bohager thought something was fishy when the lights illuminating his $10,000-a- month billboard mysteriously kept going out Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights this summer, he says.

The billboard advertising Bohager's nightclub in Fells Point stands directly across the street from his chief competitor: Hammerjacks on Guilford Avenue.

Suspicious, Bohager hired private investigators who videotaped what he says is Hammerjacks' owner, Louis Principio, and the nightclub's general manager fiddling with the billboard's power box. The videotape then shows the lights going out.

In a $4 million lawsuit filed yesterday, Bohager alleges that Principio has cost him thousands of dollars by turning off the lights.

"I kind of laughed at first," Bohager says. "There is so much competition in the city now. I'm willing to go toe-to-toe with anybody in town. But let's all play fair."

Principio disputes the allegations. He acknowledges that he cut the lock off the electrical control box that contains the on-off switch and timer for the billboard's lights. The box is attached to a parking attendant's shack. But he says he had permission to cut off the lock from the company that owns the parking lot, producing a letter from the company dated Aug. 20 to prove his point.

Principio says he needed to get into the box because the power lines that control the parking lot's lights were not working, and he wanted to make sure an electrician could fix them.

"I just want my parking lot lights to work," he says.

Bohager says he rented the billboard that stood atop a roof next to Hammerjacks in the 300 block of Guilford Ave. in May to advertise his nightclub. But the lights would go out whenever Hammerjacks was open, Bohager says.

The owner of the billboard, Eller Media Inc., then moved the advertisement to a billboard across the street from Hammerjacks' lot in late June, Bohager says. But, he says, the problems persisted.

On Aug. 25, Bohager sent one of his bouncers to the Hammerjacks parking lot and videotaped the nightclub's general manager, Donald Lloyd, prying the lock off the control box with a bolt cutter and then fiddling with the box before the lights went out, Bohager says.

Bohager hired a private investigation firm, Castle Security Group, which sent two investigators to covertly videotape the sign on a Thursday night. Bohager played the tape for The Sun yesterday.

The lawsuit claims the tape shows Lloyd walking over to the box, looking at it and then using his cellular phone. Another man, who Bohager alleges is Principio, shows up and begins to unscrew bolts in the box. The first man then uses a bolt cutter to cut off the padlock. The other man next uses pliers in the box, at one point looking directly back at the hidden camera.

The tape - actually two tapes shot from two hidden locations - then shows that the lights are no longer shining.

In an interview, Principio says he participated only in removing the lock.

When told that the tape shows him doing something with pliers in the box, Principio says he was trying to fix wires to help the parking lot lights.

"I didn't do anything," Principio says. "I used the pliers to move a wire to see what was going on."

Bohager says he might make advertisements that show Principio fooling around in the box. Bohager says, "I'm shocked. ... This would make a great ad: `If you see this guy doing this, call us.'"

Principio says he thinks Bohager is filing a lawsuit to garner publicity.

He says Bohager showed up at his nightclub about two weeks ago and complained that Hammerjacks was hurting Bohager's business.

Bohager says he did visit Hammerjacks and asked why Principio was turning off the billboard's lights - an accusation that Principio shrugged off, Bohager says.

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