Eviction, auction at bar linked to Mitchell

Landlord says business owed thousands in rent

August 08, 2002|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore sheriff's deputy evicted yesterday the owners of a Pigtown bar that has been linked to Michael B. Mitchell, a former city councilman and state senator, for failing to pay nearly $12,000 in overdue rent and water bills.

The bar at 1415 Washington Blvd., which has operated as the Short Stop Bar and Lounge and as Savannah's, will be sold at public auction Wednesday.

Landlord John D. Hubble, who confiscated the business assets, said he plans to sell the liquor license and the bar's equipment at the auction.

Hubble filed for the eviction last month after struggling for a year to collect monthly payments. "They just stopped paying the rent," he said.

Although city liquor board records list Bruce C. Bennett as the owner of the bar, city and state records indicate that Mitchell is a partner.

In a radio interview in June, Mitchell said he worked as a consultant for the bar but did not own it. But Mitchell's name appears on city records as an owner of the bar. The liquor license states that the bar was last operating under the name "Savannah's," a company for which Mitchell is listed in state corporate records as the sole director.

Once an up-and-coming jazz nightclub, the bar had problems during recent months that led to its closing in May.

The city liquor board cited the bar in April for serving alcohol to a minor. In May, the bar failed to renew its liquor license, which forced it to close indefinitely.

In addition, the state comptroller's office initiated an investigation of the bar in the spring, after determining that the owners were operating without a sales tax license for the past two years - a violation that prevents liquor establishments from renewing their licenses.

As troubles at the bar came to light, Michael Mitchell emerged as a key figure in its operations. Mitchell, now an employee of 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.

Attorney General J. Joseph Jr. Curran said in a recent interview that his office is continuing to review Parren Mitchell's financial records in connection with Michael Mitchell's management of the trust.

Curran said his office has been meeting with Arthur M. Frank, an attorney representing the Mitchells, who has been cooperating with the investigators in providing documents that have been requested.

"We didn't go away," Curran said of the Mitchell case. "If we don't get what we've requested, we'll ratchet it up a little bit."

Michael Mitchell has refused repeated requests by The Sun for an interview.

Frank said an audit of Parren Mitchell's account has been completed, and it will show that while it was listed as the "Parren Mitchell Trust," it included "Parren Mitchell's and Michael Mitchell's money jointly."

"Some checks were cashed for Parren, some were for Michael," Frank said. "If anything, Parren Mitchell would owe Michael Mitchell money."

Frank said he would give a copy of the audit to the attorney general but would not release it to The Sun for privacy reasons.

As for the bar, Frank said, "Michael Mitchell doesn't have an interest in the bar."

Mitchell also is one of two directors of a bail bond business, called J & M Statewide Bail Bonds and Insurance Inc., which operated at the same location as the bar.

Mitchell helped run the bar and the bail bonds business with Linwood Jamal Lockett, 29, of Baltimore, who has a long history of criminal charges that include illegal drugs, guns and counterfeit check writing.

A spokesman for the Maryland Insurance Administration said this week that the agency's investigation of Lockett's background revealed that he is legally operating the bail bonds business despite his criminal history.

Lockett was placed on probation for drug and weapons charges in 1995, and a series of other charges have been dropped, which made him eligible to hold the necessary license.

City prosecutors are continuing to investigate a counterfeit check case in which Lockett and 24 others allegedly conspired to bilk B&B Liquors Inc., at 2060 Mondawmin Mall, of more than $15,000 over a 10-day period last year, according to an investigator and court records.

Inside the bar yesterday, the documents that remained - some mail and bar records - mostly carried the names of Lockett and two of his relatives and Michael Mitchell.

Bottles of liquor were in the bar, some partially empty and others unopened, along with piles of mail, newspapers and other documents. On the second floor, sheets of computer-generated business cards and other papers lay on the floor and tables. An old pool table filled a corner of the room.

Charles Willis, a former disc jockey and manager of the bar, walked into the building yesterday looking for his sound equipment. But most of the equipment, worth thousands of dollars, was gone.

"You all just don't know how angry I am," said Wills, who operated under the disc jockey name "Slicky WooBoo." "For him to do something like this to me is unbelievable."

Wills said he tried repeatedly to reach Mitchell about the sound equipment, but Mitchell would not return his phone calls.

Hubble said he has not heard from any of the bar's operators since he filed for the eviction. Hubble said Mitchell had been paying the rent for years, but he said he has not heard from Mitchell in months.

Frank said any business Mitchell was doing in relation to the bar "was on behalf of someone else."

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