Liquor board grants license to new owners of Elkridge business

Previous proprietor's permit had been revoked for alcohol sales to minors

July 29, 2005|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

A divided Howard County Alcoholic Beverage Hearing Board has voted to return a liquor license to new owners of an Elkridge business.

The board voted, 3-2, to approve a new license for the owners of Elkridge Wine and Spirits, 6501 Huntshire Drive, which is off Meadowridge Road near the Interstate 95 bridge. The store has been closed since October, though the new licensees have been paying rent on it.

"I'm swayed, but with great concern. I'll keep my fingers crossed," said board member Michael McFarland, who voted to approve the new license.

"I think this is just too risky," said board member William Neault, who voted against granting the license. He worried that the poor English-language skills of the Vietnamese immigrant owners could lead to problems.

The doubts were voiced because the new majority owners, Quang Duc Luu, and his wife, Thao P. Tran, were working at the store in preparation for taking over ownership of the business in September when county police caught two underage teenagers buying alcohol there on two occasions.

Vincent Guida, the applicants' attorney, told the board at a hearing Tuesday night that his clients had been naive in trusting the former owner, and were following his orders when the underage sales were made. He presented a third licensee with experience working in liquor stores to soothe the board's fears.

"They've lost $195,000," Guida said about his immigrant clients, who have paid rent on a closed store for 10 months. He said they had signed a five-year lease for the store that obligates them to pay $435,000 whether they are able to reopen it or not. Under county law, no one can apply for a new liquor license to replace a revoked one for at least six months after the revocation.

In October, the board revoked the license for the store after county liquor inspector Detective Martin Johnson and other officers testified about a long string of violations under the ownership of Divlir Singh of Randallstown, who sold the business to Luu and Tran.

At that hearing, an agreed statement of facts revealed that no one legally responsible for the store lived in Howard County, as required by law. In addition to three illegal sales to underage teens, Johnson testified the store did not display proper tax records, and the annual license renewal application included false addresses for licensees.

For several months before the hearing, the store was being operated by Luu and his wife.

On Tuesday night, Guida presented Micaiah Lynne Jones of Sykesville as a third licensee and 6 percent owner of the business, as part of the answer to the board's doubts.

She testified that she had worked six years at a liquor store in Owen Brown Village Center, and that she would work at the Elkridge store up to seven days a week to help her friends get off to a good start.

Luu told the board, "I come in this country and I work hard," managing a warehouse in Savage. He immigrated in 1986, he said, but said he was too trusting in making his deal with Singh.

In his application for the license, Luu neglected to mention a drunken-driving charge in 1993, he said, because when he got a copy of his driving record to submit to the board, it did not mention the incident, for which he got probation before judgment. He was told it was expunged from his record, he said.

Guida said applicants are often not aware that unless they hire a lawyer to expunge their record, such violations are kept in a separate record by the Motor Vehicle Administration, and are available to law enforcement and regulatory agencies.

All of his problems have made a deep impression, Luu said.

"I learn a lesson. This never happen again," he said.

Tran admitted to the board that she was the clerk who sold alcohol to a teenager in September without seeing any identification, but she said she had asked for identification, but Singh told her to sell to the youth, claiming he knew him to be over 21.

County police caught a 17-year-old with 13 containers of alcohol Feb. 20 at the store, and Sept. 9, police caught a 19-year old who had bought rum and gave it to a 17-year old outside the store. Two days later, another officer caught another 17-year-old buying alcohol at the store.

Board member Ethel B. Hill said she reluctantly voted to approve the license because Luu owns no other businesses and is planning to quit his warehouse job to work in the store.

Board Chairman John L. Peoples Jr. voted against granting the license, but John R. Horan voted for it, reasoning that "I think they got taken in by this first guy [Singh]. I would be a little lenient and give them a shot," he said.

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