City judge tells bar owners to pay up

Pigtown business linked to Michael Mitchell owes $12,000 in rent, water bills

Eviction threatened next week

July 20, 2002|By Ivan Penn and Walter F. Roche Jr. | Ivan Penn and Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore District Court judge ordered this week the owners of a troubled Pigtown bar linked to Michael B. Mitchell Sr., a former city councilman and state senator, to pay almost $12,000 in back rent and water bills or face eviction next week, records show.

Owners of the Short Stop Bar and Lounge, also known as Savannah's, at 1415 Washington Blvd., could face eviction if the debt is not satisfied by Thursday. The building, owned by John D. Hubble, who filed for the judgment a week ago, also is the business address for a bail bond company, state records show.

The judgment against owners of the bar is yet another blow to an operation under investigation by the state comptroller's office for failing to pay payroll and sales taxes over the past two years. The bar's license expired in May, and the city liquor board imposed an indefinite suspension because a bartender served alcohol to a minor in April.

As problems with the bar have surfaced, Michael Mitchell's role in the operation has become increasingly apparent. A recent liquor license states that the bar is owned by CSY Inc., and was operating under the name Savannah's, a business for which Mitchell is listed as the sole director, according to city liquor board and state corporate records.

Mitchell, now an employee with the Maryland Transportation Authority, has been under scrutiny for using a bank account belonging to his uncle, former U.S. Rep. Parren J. Mitchell, to pay expenses for the same bar. Thousands of dollars in bills at the Keswick Multi-Care Center, where Parren Mitchell has been a patient since 1999, have gone unpaid while Michael Mitchell acted as his uncle's legal representative.

The Sun has learned that Parren Mitchell's trust account was used to pay rent for the bar, including a $2,000 check drawn on the account early this year. And a manager of the bar said he saw Michael Mitchell pay a Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. utility bill with a Parren Mitchell check.

Although city liquor board records list Bruce C. Bennett as the owner of the bar, city and state records and a former manager of the pub point to Michael Mitchell and Linwood Jamal Lockett, who has a long criminal record, as being among its partners.

Charles Wills, 38, a Baltimore native who worked as a disc jockey and manager of the bar for two years, said he understood that Mitchell and Lockett owned the bar.

Mitchell has acknowledged that he worked as a consultant and promoter for the bar, but in a recent appearance on radio station WOLB denied that he was an owner. He has refused repeated requests by The Sun for an interview.

Arthur M. Frank, the lawyer who incorporated the Washington Boulevard businesses for which Mitchell and Lockett are listed as directors, said yesterday that neither Mitchell nor Lockett owned the bar.

"It was never owned by Michael Mitchell," Frank said. He said Mitchell was looking to buy the bar, but "it just never got off the ground."

But Frank said he could not comment on why Michael Mitchell paid expenses for the bar, if he did not own it. "I don't deal with that stuff," he said.

Under state law, convicted felons are not allowed to have an ownership interest in licensed liquor establishments. Mitchell was convicted on charges of impeding a federal investigation and served a prison sentence. Linwood Jamal Lockett, known as Jamal Lockett, has convictions on manufacturing and distribution of drugs and handgun possession.

Mitchell and Lockett also incorporated a business, which operates out of the bar's location, called J&M Statewide Bail Bonds and Insurance Inc., state records show. Lockett holds a license with the Maryland Insurance Administration to run such a business, but that could be in jeopardy, if state officials determine his background precludes him from holding it.

"We will be opening an investigation immediately," said Debbie McKerrow, a spokeswoman for the insurance administration.

Wills, who has thousands of dollars' worth of sound equipment and CDs locked up in the bar, said he tried repeatedly to reach Mitchell to retrieve his equipment.

"He won't even call me back," said Wills, a disc jockey who works as "Slicky WooBoo."

Wills said he began working at the bar 2 1/2 years ago, when Mitchell, Lockett and Lockett's brother, Tyrone O. Lockett, were running the business.

Initially, he said, he was brought on to work as a disc jockey at $50 a night. About six months later, he said, Mitchell asked him to become manager.

Outside of their businesses at 1415 Washington Blvd., the Locketts have had extensive criminal records. In early January 2001, Jamal Lockett, 29, and Tyrone Lockett, 33, nicknamed "Solo", were arrested on charges they conspired with 25 other people to bilk B&B Liquors Inc., at 2060 Mondawmin Mall, of more than $15,000 by writing counterfeit checks drawn on the Bank of New York, according to court records. The cases are pending.

The Locketts did not return phone calls and have declined past requests for interviews.

In both of the Locketts' counterfeit check cases, law enforcement officials said they were regarded as flight risks, "due to the defendant's violent past, unstable home address, and suspicion of drug abuse."

In November, Tyrone Lockett was given probation in a plea agreement on charges of manufacturing and distributing cocaine. The plea agreement followed several other drug and handgun charges and convictions in Maryland and New York dating to August 1989.

In 1995, Jamal Lockett was convicted on charges of possession with intent to distribute illegal drugs and handgun possession.

Wills said he left his job the bar this year after he had an argument with Jamal Lockett.

"I really didn't like working for them," Wills said. "They were having fights in there -- big fights, terrible fights."

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