Liquor board probe closed

State prosecutor's office will not file criminal charges

December 22, 2006|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,Sun Reporter

The state prosecutor's office has wrapped up its investigation into the city liquor board and issued a statement that no criminal charges will be filed.

The state investigation was launched after an April 2005 lawsuit filed by then-liquor board chief inspector Samuel T. Daniels. The lawsuit was rife with allegations of wrongdoing by top liquor board officials and bar owners. Daniels eventually withdrew the lawsuit, but the investigation continued.

Meanwhile, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. appointed two reform-minded liquor board commissioners. Daniels received a promotion after raising the allegations and now serves as the agency's executive secretary, which pays $80,000 a year.

FOR THE RECORD - An article and photo caption in yesterday's editions incorrectly reported that Mark S. Fosler was appointed to the Baltimore liquor board following a 2005 lawsuit filed by then-liquor board chief inspector Samuel T. Daniels. In fact, Fosler was on the board prior to the lawsuit and reappointed after it was filed.
The Sun regrets the error.

After learning that the investigation had been dropped, Daniels criticized the state prosecutor's office. He said the investigators unfairly blamed him because they could not nail down his allegations of criminal activity.

"It is unconscionable that they are going to blame me," Daniels said. "They did not find anything, and now that is my fault?"

A spokesman for the state prosecutor's office, an independent agency that investigates election law violations as well as alleged misconduct by elected officials and public employees, had little to say about the investigation's end or Daniels' criticism.

"We stand by our conclusion," said James I. Cabezas, chief investigator for the office.

Daniels' lawsuit accused top liquor board officials of shielding some liquor establishments from sanctions. Board chairman Mark S. Fosler, who was appointed to the board in the wake of Daniels' lawsuit, learned about the decision to close the investigation on Monday in a letter from the state prosecutor's office. The investigation began in August 2005.

The decision to close the investigation comes at a time when there is much speculation about who will lead the liquor board in the future. Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley could appoint new commissioners, who in turn could change the direction of the state agency, which oversees liquor and adult entertainment establishments in the city.

Daniels also said his promotion last month to the top administrative position has nothing to do with the allegations in his lawsuit, which played a role in the dismissal of his predecessor, former state Sen. Nathan C. Irby Jr.

Irby was forced out by liquor board commissioners who sided with Daniels. Irby received close to $54,000 in back salary and benefits in October as the result of a settlement in a lawsuit he filed in city Circuit Court to try to get his old job back. In court documents, he claimed that he had been wrongfully terminated by board commissioner Edward Smith Jr., who Irby claimed was prejudiced against him.

Daniels said he did not file the lawsuit to get Irby's job, but rather, to save his own job as chief inspector.

"I did not ask for the [state prosecutor's] investigation," Daniels said. "I wanted my job back."

At the time, Daniels had been suspended from his job as chief liquor inspector for insubordination. Former liquor board commissioners Claudia L. Brown and John A. Green Sr. accused Daniels of going behind their backs to initiate investigations. Daniels said Fosler had signed off on the investigations, but the two commissioners said that was not enough.

"Of course it is interesting how things worked out," said Daniels, referring to his new position as head of the agency. "But the essential thing here is that people think there was a plan, and that is ridiculous."

In his lawsuit, Daniels accused Irby, Brown, Green and Deputy Executive Secretary Jane M. Schroeder of engaging in political collusion and corruption to protect some bar owners from sanctions. He also accused state Sen. Joan Carter Conway, a Democrat from Baltimore, of working with the liquor board to get rid of him and replace him with her husband, Vernon "Tim" Conway, who is a city liquor inspector.

Conway said she was glad that the state prosecutor's investigation was over and that she hoped it would put an end to speculation about state senators' power over the agency, which many still believe to be a bastion of political patronage. Liquor inspectors were political appointees until the 1990s. They are civil servants today, but many still maintain strong relationships with the senators who got them their jobs before the system changed.

"I guess that means that I am a good guy," said Conway, referring to the state prosecutor's decision to end the investigation.

Brown and Green requested an investigation by the state prosecutor's office in an attempt to clear their names. But not long after an inquiry into Daniels' allegations was announced, Brown retired and moved to Texas, and Green was not reappointed. Attempts to reach them for comment yesterday were unsuccessful.

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