Promoter testifies ex-senator aided ring

Michael B. Mitchell advised on liquor board to help clubs, witness says

January 14, 2003|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

Two convicted heroin dealers who authorities say used Baltimore nightclubs to hide a violent crime ring repeatedly relied on the advice and connections of former state Sen. Michael B. Mitchell to keep their legitimate business fronts running smoothly, an events promoter who worked closely with the men testified yesterday.

In one instance, the leaders of the alleged crime ring received a more favorable hearing date before the city liquor board after one of the men handed Mitchell some cash before the former Baltimore councilman met privately with liquor board officials, promoter Martin "Chicken" Young testified in U.S. District Court.

More generally, Young said he was told by alleged ringleader James E. Gross Sr. - now the lead defendant in a high-profile federal racketeering case - that Mitchell should be considered a valuable consultant. U.S. prosecutors introduced two checks showing that Mitchell and ALM Inc., a business owned by Mitchell's wife, were paid $5,600 in "adviser fees" through the crime ring's businesses.

"[Gross] told me: This man can help you do whatever you want to do - he's connected with people in the city, and could help with stuff like permits or whatever," Young testified.

Mitchell is not charged with any crime. His private attorney and the administrative head of the city liquor board questioned yesterday Young's account of the transaction before the liquor board in late 2000 as Gross and his former partner Louis W. Colvin sought approval of a liquor license for a club they planned to open at 10 S. Calvert St.

"I doubt that that would happen, because at that point in time, I don't think Michael Mitchell would have had that type of clout," Arthur M. Frank, Mitchell's attorney, said.

Nathan C. Irby, executive secretary of the liquor board, said board officials deal directly only with individuals named on the liquor license application in setting hearing dates, not with lobbyists or other intermediaries.

"I can't recall Mike interfacing directly with any of us on this," Irby said. "It just doesn't sound like the way it would happen."

Federal prosecutors have subpoenaed Mitchell to testify in the racketeering case. But Frank said yesterday that he doubted Mitchell would testify because he knows little about Gross and Colvin or their alleged criminal activities.

Frank said Mitchell's only connection to the men was that he once represented them or their relatives before Mitchell lost his law license and resigned from the state Senate after a federal conviction on obstruction of justice charges in the late 1980s.

When Gross and Colvin came to Mitchell in the late 1990s - after their release from federal prison on drug and gun charges - Mitchell's only role was to refer them to an attorney for legal advice, Frank said.

In his testimony yesterday, Young suggested that the men had a business relationship that continued at least through 2000, when the crime ring operated by Colvin and Gross reached beyond routine drug dealing to arson, witness tampering and attempted murder, federal authorities allege.

Young, a small-time promoter who was trying to find a legitimate footing in the entertainment business in 2000 after serving a three-year jail term in Virginia for drug dealing, also testified that he eventually went to work for Mitchell - working as a promoter for events at the Short Stop Bar & Lounge, which records show that Mitchell operated.

Young said he was at the city liquor board offices in late 2000 with Colvin and Gross when they were seeking a liquor license for the downtown club they planned to open as Intellects. Young testified that Mitchell also was there, along with Colvin's mother and father - who eventually became the liquor licensee for the site.

"Mr. Gross gave Mr. Mitchell some money," Young said in court.

"Was it cash?" Assistant U.S. Attorney Christine Manuelian asked.

"Yes," Young said. He then added: "Mr. Mitchell went in the back, and we had another [hearing] date set - sooner than what they [liquor board officials] were going to do."

Liquor board records for the club, which later operated as the Emineo, do not mention Michael Mitchell playing any role in the liquor license application. An unsigned, handwritten note included in the city records notes, "Left message for Sen. Mitchell," without elaboration.

As part of a civil lawsuit filed in Baltimore Circuit Court, Gross' wife listed Michael Mitchell and former state Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV - who was defeated for re-election last fall - as potential witnesses in a profit dispute between Gross and Colvin.

The two men's longstanding partnership eroded in late 2000 and early 2001, after Gross was jailed for raping a 12-year-old Baltimore girl. In the current racketeering case, Colvin has pleaded guilty and is expected to testify against Gross and four other men on trial, including Gross' son, James E. Gross Jr.

Federal authorities have charged that the group was responsible for arsons that destroyed two nightclubs - one as part of an insurance fraud scheme in January 2001 at the group's former operation's base, Strawberry's 5000 in Baltimore County. The other arson was allegedly done on Christmas Day 2000 to thwart competition at Club Fahrenheit in nearby Southeast Baltimore.

The defendants also are accused of burning a Lexus sedan, wounding a man in a brazen roadway shooting, robbing a Stop Shop `N' Save on North Monroe Street, intimidating witnesses and turning on each other.

Two of the defendants are accused of trying to kill Colvin. Young testified yesterday that Colvin and Gross had discussed repercussions that could come if they harmed another co-defendants, James Earl Feaster, the liquor licensee for Strawberry's.

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