Liquor board files sought

Personnel records, details on database spending requested in latest round

October 22, 2005|By LYNN ANDERSON | LYNN ANDERSON,SUN REPORTER

A Baltimore grand jury has subpoenaed additional files from the city liquor board, some dating back to 1997, as well as information on a computer database contract the agency executed with its chief liquor inspector.

The new round of subpoenaes is part of a continuing investigation by State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh. Although the investigation appears to be widening, Rohrbaugh has not said what he's looking for.

In recent months, Rohrbaugh's staff has subpoenaed thousands of documents related to liquor board personnel policies, licensee files and inspection procedures.

Liquor board Chairman Mark S. Fosler released a copy of the most recent subpoena to The Sun yesterday. Although he said he had yet to review the document himself, Fosler said the agency would cooperate and that the materials would be delivered to the grand jury by the Nov. 4 deadline.

The subpoena requests copies of all performance evaluations for liquor inspectors, records pertaining to training received by inspectors from 1998 to the present, written directives from the liquor board to inspectors regarding work hours, job duties and investigations from 1997 to the present, as well as job descriptions for all employees.

In a separate subpoena, the grand jury has also asked chief inspector Samuel T. Daniels Jr. to provide information pertaining to database work he performed at the liquor board in 1999, according to a law enforcement official who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the liquor board investigation.

City auditors questioned the database expenditure in an annual review of liquor board finances in 2001, stating that although Daniels had been paid for the job, not all of the work had been completed.

"We found that the board paid $16,350 for only the installation of purchased software on two computers," auditors stated in the report, a copy of which was reviewed by The Sun. "We could not verify that services related to consultation, design, installation and testing were performed."

Daniels confirmed Thursday that he had received a subpoena but would not discuss the details of the request.

Asked about the database work, Daniels said he was unable to complete the job because of a lack of cooperation from Deputy Executive Secretary Jane M. Schroeder, who he said refused to release data he needed to update the liquor board's licensee database.

He said that in addition to the work covered under his contract, he also created a database to keep track of adult entertainment venues. He said he was not compensated for the extra work.

"I did all the work that I was able to do," Daniels said.

Former liquor board Chairman Leonard R. Skolnik, who asked Daniels to do the work, also blamed Schroeder for the incomplete work. He said that Daniels was only able to install new software on "maybe two computers" because "she refused to cooperate."

Schroeder, a former liquor board member who has served as deputy executive director for more than a decade, will not discuss any aspect of her work at the state agency. She is under an order from Fosler not to speak to the news media.

However, she made it clear that she did not support the Daniels contract in a 1998 memo to Skolnik and the rest of the liquor board, a copy of which was obtained by The Sun under the state public records act.

In addition to questioning the ethics of hiring an employee to create and maintain the agency database, Schroeder said she was also worried about the ability of other staff members to use the system, as well as the safeguarding of confidential information on licensees.

"Where is the security of the system if it is designed by an employee?" Schroeder said in her three-page memo. "One of the ongoing concerns with Inspector Daniels copying our information is how the information is used."

Schroeder said Daniels' proposal contradicted "decisions and direction already chosen for the agency. ... I would respectfully suggest that our entire database system ... not be changed."

Skolnik and the board did not heed her advice, and when auditors raised questions about the job, which was not advertised and was never approved by the city's Bureau of Information Technology or Board of Estimates, Skolnik got a friend with some expertise in computers to review the work. The friend, Skolnik said, confirmed that Daniels had done a good job.

"It was clear that there was nothing wrong," said Skolnik, whom Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. did not reappoint to the liquor board in 2004.

Asked if the board ever revisited the matter when it became clear that Daniels was paid for work he had not completed, Skolnik said, "No, we let it slide because it wasn't his fault."

In a separate request, the state prosecutor also has asked prison officials to turn over the complete prison file for Gilbert Sapperstein, a long-time liquor license broker and video poker game supplier, who was convicted for his role in a scheme that defrauded the city school system of $3.3 million.

Rohrbaugh's office prosecuted Sapperstein in the schools case. The state prosecutor was surprised to learn a week ago that state officials had reduced Sapperstein's prison term by 9 months and allowed him to serve his remaining time on home detention at his Green Spring Valley residence. Prison officials said Sapperstein's sentence was altered in anticipation of his good behavior during home detention and participation in other prison programs.

As part of a plea deal, Sapperstein, who owns All-State Boiler Service Inc., repaid the school system the $3.3 million plus 6 percent interest.

The liquor board has focused its attention on license brokers recently. Past liquor boards have allowed brokers such as Sapperstein, who has had control of dozens of liquor licenses over the years, to hang on to inactive licenses for more than a year, in violation of state law. The state prosecutor's office is also reviewing inactive licenses.

lynn.anderson@baltsun.com

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