More liquor board claims

Clubs were tipped off, ex-owner says

September 24, 2005|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,Sun reporter

A former Baltimore club owner who boasted to undercover police that the chief liquor inspector was tipping him off to police raids and liquor board inspections is now cooperating with law enforcement officials, according to court records reviewed by The Sun.

Robert L. Blackburn -- the former owner of the Windsor Club in downtown Baltimore and former manager of a strip club called Chevelle's Gentlemen's Club near Highlandtown -- made the claim in August 2003 to two undercover police officers posing as dancers. The officers later recounted the details of their conversation with the club manager in a sworn affidavit.

Blackburn's connection at the liquor board, according to the affidavit, was chief liquor inspector Samuel T. Daniels Jr., an 18-year veteran of the state agency who was recently selected by the board to lead a renewed crackdown on The Block, Baltimore's adult entertainment hub.

Daniels called Blackburn's statements to police "untrue" and said he was probably trying to show off. He said that the FBI interviewed him about his job but that "nothing happened."

The affidavit is in one of about 500 police vice unit files obtained recently by the state prosecutor as part of a continuing investigation into the liquor board, according to two law enforcement sources, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation and a pending review by a city grand jury.

After Blackburn's encounter the with the undercover officers, police charged him with running a prostitution business and, about a month later, with engaging in illegal gaming. But before the case came to trial, he worked out a deal in which he would cooperate with investigators and his case would be placed on hold. The deal, brokered by Blackburn's attorney, Peter A. Prevas, and Assistant State's Attorney John E. Cox, was captured on court video July 8, 2004.

Daniels, who called Blackburn "a casual friend," said he knew that his name had come up as part of the Blackburn case. He said he didn't know the context but said, "People can throw your name around to sound important."

Prevas said Blackburn "absolutely did not" tell police that Daniels was his inside source at the liquor board.

"That's ridiculous," Prevas said. "Sam Daniels is a very up-front person."

Prevas tried to get the court video in which his client agreed to work with detectives sealed yesterday, but a reporter viewed the videotape in Circuit Court before the lawyer could process his request.

New twist in probe

The allegations about Daniels are a new twist in the liquor board investigation, which had appeared to focus on licensing, enforcement and personnel matters. This month, the liquor board handed over dozens of boxes of documents -- including files on Norma Jean's Show Bar, a strip club on The Block, and Power Plant Live!, a downtown entertainment venue -- to the grand jury as part of a subpoena request.

State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh has declined to discuss any aspect of the liquor board investigation.

When told of the police affidavit, liquor board Chairman Mark S. Fosler said that it was the first he had heard of it and that he still trusted Daniels.

"I've never had cause to question his integrity or his honesty or his dedication to this agency," Fosler said.

At the time police did the undercover work, Chevelle's, at 4100 E. Lombard St., was in the process of changing ownership and is now called the Eldorado Club.

Blackburn was helping run the club during the switch. When the two undercover officers entered the club, Blackburn approached them and asked them if they were looking for work. When the women told him they were, he took them on a tour of the club, pointing out "VIP" rooms where he told them they could "do extra stuff to make more money."

The police officers testified in the affidavit that "extra stuff" is street terminology for "sexual practices." They said Blackburn told them they could receive $500 for having sex with a patron in one of the VIP rooms but that his share would be $300.

Blackburn told the women that the liquor board had been "coming down hard" on clubs but that "Chief Daniels of the liquor board" was giving him "information on what they are doing."

Later, Blackburn asked the women if they wanted to work at his Windsor Club at 12 S. Calvert St. According to the affidavit, Blackburn said, "I do have private parties ... if you girls would be interested in that." The police officers said Blackburn told them they could also perform sex acts at his club.

Blackburn said the parties at his bar would take place after the strip club's 2 a.m. closing.

"This was an indication that [Blackburn] would host private after-hours parties with alcohol service in violation of the state laws prohibiting after-hours alcohol dispensing and consumption by patrons," the police officers said in the affidavit.

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