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Ex-Liquor Board official says decisions routinely based on politics

Fogleman declines comment on Sam Daniels' sworn statement filed as part of a lawsuit over the former Northside Bar

sam daniels jr

Samuel Daniels, shown at an unrelated City Hall hearing in 2012, alleges that Liquor Board actions were influenced by “politics,” not “the merits of the matter.”

Photo by: Mark Reutter

Last year, the Baltimore City Liquor Board was hit with an audit by the state that slammed the agency for lacking written policies, poor-performing inspectors and failing to enforce the law regarding when a liquor license should be considered dead.

Now a court document charges that what frequently drove board actions regarding dead licenses and other high-stakes matters was politics and influence.

The allegations were made in a sworn affidavit by the board’s former executive secretary Samuel T. Daniels, Jr., and filed in Baltimore City Circuit Court on April 19 as part of a lawsuit against the board contesting its 2008 decision finding that the license for the Northside Bar, at 3100 Greenmount Avenue, was dead.

“Based on my first-hand observation of the routine practices of the Board during the time that Stephan Fogleman was chairman of the Board, in the cases in which there was community and/or political interest in the outcome of a matter, those interests always superseded the merits of the matter,” Daniels says in the four-page document.

Charges Improper Communications

Daniels has been a fixture at the agency for decades, starting as an inspector in 1987, becoming chief inspector in 1999 and promoted to executive secretary in 2006. He left the board last July and has been acting as a consultant to licensees, appearing before the board on behalf of restaurants and bars.

Daniels alleges in the affidavit that Fogleman “made himself available for ex parte [one-party] communications regarding contested quasi-judicial matters before the Board.”

He says that Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke “routinely” communicated with Fogleman on such matters.

Fogleman, who left the board earlier this month to become an Orphans Court judge, declined to answer questions about the affidavit, saying he didn’t want to comment on pending litigation. Reached by phone, he referred The Brew to board attorney Alice G. Pinderhughes, who picked up on her cell phone but has not called back with any comment.

Clarke, meanwhile, called Daniels’ allegations about her “ridiculous.” Discussing them with The Brew, she said flatly, “None of these communications were in any way inappropriate.”

Dispute Over License Declared Dead

The charges come tangled with potential score-settling from an agency insider who has made them before and who denied, upon leaving the agency last year, that he was pushed out as part of an effort to correct audit problems.

The affidavit also comes as part of a convoluted legal snarl over 3100 Greenmount and a decade-long community war waged against the establishment, the Northside.

“On many evenings, and throughout the night, the patrons would cause great disruption, partying, pre-partying in their cars,” said Bonnie Bessor, president of the Abell Improvement Association, recounting shootings and other incidents at the establishment that is near her home.

“We had patrons urinating on peoples’ houses,” she said. “I once caught a couple having intercourse up against my house.”

An excerpt from the four-page affidavit filed by Sam Daniels.

An excerpt from the four-page affidavit filed by Sam Daniels.

The reason the bar’s license was declared expired was that it had been closed longer than 180 days, the board ruled on January 21, 2010. (The law says any establishment out of operation for that long loses its liquor license.)

But “if it hadn’t been such a blight,” Clarke said, “the neighborhood wouldn’t have pushed” the board to enforce the 180-day rule. The bar closed in 2008.

One-time owner and now secured creditor for the building, Robert D. Williams, was not the licensee running the bar and said he was not responsible for the problems.

But in hopes of getting the license back, he has persistently fought the dead-license ruling, saying that he has evidence the bar was open late enough to have allowed it to remain valid.

“I went in there and I found receipts showing all these deliveries,” said Williams, who says the board “lost” documents related to his request for a hardship extension, failed to inform him of relevant information on the case and otherwise acted improperly under pressure from the community.

Appealing without success up to the Maryland Court of Appeals, Williams Realty and Robert D. Williams plead its case in Circuit Court this month. The motion included a remark Sam Daniels’ made to Williams, his attorney, H. Mark Stichel, and to another man in August 2012 during a meeting at the Liquor Board office.

“Politics, not the facts before the Board” was behind the finding that the hardship extension request came in too late, Daniels had said.

The Circuit Court dismissed Williams’ motion, but last week Stichel filed on his behalf a motion for reconsideration, citing Daniels’ affidavit (which includes the remark).

Daniels' affidavit is part of litigation over the former Northside Bar, at 3100 Greenmount Avenue.

Daniels’ affidavit is part of litigation over the former Northside Bar on Greenmount Avenue. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Special Treatment

The murkier aspects of the case aside, Daniels’ allegations seem to buttress longstanding complaints from community groups and their advocates about lax, uneven and prejudicial Liquor Board decisions.

“The board often  acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner with respect to motions and requests for reconsideration,” Daniels said in his affidavit.

Questioned by The Brew regarding Bill’s Cafe, a trouble-plagued East Baltimore bar whose license was revoked, Fogleman acknowledged that the revocation was quietly reversed in December by the commissioners “meeting in the back” at a non-public session. Two prominent members of the Greektown community, one a priest, the other the chief of police for the Maryland Transit Administration, wrote letters on behalf of the licensee.

Another recent case involved Voltage, the huge dance club in southeast Baltimore. It’s license was revoked amid reports of fighting, shooting and underage drinking, but then revived in a deal worked out by the board, community and the licensees’ lawyers.

The licensees had to pay a $3,000 fine and agree to shut down the business in that O’Donnell Street location. (That reconsideration was confirmed during a brief public hearing, but Fogleman maintained he was not required to do so by law.)

“Most, if not virtually all reconsideration requests were not considered on the record, by meetings with minutes or in any other formal/conventional setting,” Daniels said in the affidavit. He also noted that reconsideration could “remain unanswered for prolonged periods of time” in “politically sensitive” cases.

Law or a Squishy Guideline?

The issue of the 180-day being scrupulously followed – or flagrantly ignored – is another practice for which the board has been long been criticized.

Lately, the Community Law Center, which represented the Abell Improvement Association in the Northside case, has been finding (and publicizing in its “Booze News” watchdog blog) multiple examples of this problem, which was also cited by the state auditors in their March 2013 audit. The center been wrangling in court over a legal interpretation of the rule.

The Law Center has identified, and The Brew has reported on, “zombie” liquor licenses allowed to remain active for years past the shut-down date of the business.

Bessor, of the Abell Association, said Councilwoman Clarke was “acting in this case in the best interest of the community and doing her job.” Bessor described the Liquor Board as “a dysfunctional system, a flawed set-up that needs to be made more responsive and consistent.”

She said she has “no first-hand knowledge of political influence,” but added, “I don’t doubt there is.”

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  • Scott

    Surprised that the Brew published these allegations given the source and context. More surprised, that the history/background of the source is buried in the article. Usually when these kind of allegations are made against members of the judiciary — who cannot respond and defend themselves — the media does a better job of providing balance and context. Of course, in truth, most wild allegations against the judicial bodies and judges are wisely ignored.

    But as someone who occassionally observed liquor board hearings, I’ve been impressed with Fogleman. He was exactly what one would want from a Judge (or board chair): courteous, thoughtful, deliberative, impartial, helpful to those who were new to the process, decisive, witty, etc. I’ve never met the man, but when his departure was annouced, I felt it was a loss for the city (and the Orphans Court’s gain). I still do.

    • Anon

      Steve? Is that you?

      • Scott

        Did I miss spell “Scott” ? If so, sorry for the confusion.

  • ushanellore

    Yes, witty, thoughtful, deliberative and courteous about his mostly partial decisions–decisive about the same, which makes the partiality all the more tragic.

  • Tom Gregory

    “We had patrons urinating on peoples’ houses,” she said. “I once caught a couple having intercourse up against my house.”

    In moving the goal line yet again, new LB guidelines for presenting evidence of such acts will require photographic documentation or the allegations will be treated merely as anecdotal.

    • ushanellore

      Questions: Were these two separate acts of intercourse, each with the house as partner, or was it one act of intercourse, man with woman, man with man, woman with woman, or human with animal–LB will want details. Better be prepared.

      • Tom Gregory

        My head is spinning. Too many permutations.

    • snarkycomments

      Yes, I would imagine that before closing down a business, the people in charge of taking that action would like some sort of evidence. This seems like a fairly low bar considering how difficult it is to start a business in Baltimore. This is especially true since there are apparently community members who believe that banning bars and restaurants is their religious calling and full time obsession.

      • Tom Gregory

        LB inspectors should be collecting evidence, not citizens. See Dawson Family:

        http://baltimore.cbslocal.com/2012/10/16/memorial-held-to-mark-10th-anniversary-of-dawson-family-murder/

      • ushanellore

        Not really–having some peace of mind from the alcoholism, rowdyism, noise pollution and the tumultuousness and headlessness that alcohol seems to generate in some so prone–remember a few bad apples are enough to create a bad scene in any bar or store–that’s what the residents want.

        Don’t paint those who want peace and quiet as puritans. Alcohol is the most accepted venom in America. The millennials now have gone sophisticated–they want brand names, micro brews and little known distilleries. The operational myth is most can handle liquor, drink moderately and the alcohol industry should be revered and holy. Not so much support for other industries both underground and above the ground– cigarettes, heroin, cocaine and prescription drugs for example stay condemned in most quarters.

        Alcohol causes more havoc or if not as much as the other drugs. You may like an alcohol seller to thrive because he has a right to–by the same token, without being dubbed a puritan, I may want him out of my sight.

  • ushanellore

    Come on–the oligarchs are out and about and liquor is their lifeblood. They want to festoon Baltimore with liquor stores, gambling joints and bars. They want the people as stupefied and stupid as they can get them and make a bundle from that stupefaction. These are men with good legal representation. They have political connections. Fogleman has a narcissistic streak. Of course he is susceptible to the blandishments of the politicos and nepotists. Besides as a political aspirant, he identifies with the woes of the men and women in power and he does not mind listening to their requests for favor for this or that bar owner or liquor store tycoon.

    Why not? They give him their say, he weighs it in his Fogleman balance and letting the balance tip disproportionately for the bar owners in his head, he comes everyday, refreshed by new partiality and political cronyism, to be witty and gritty with the liquor licensees and new applicants. It is so easy to be partial when you are witty, courteous, thoughtful and deliberative. No one will suspect you of deep dark deeds. It is also so easy to be decisive because the decisiveness by another name is quid pro quo.

  • JJ

    Ugh. Why won’t Daniels just go away? I’ll take Clarke and Fogleman over him everyday of the week…

    Free story idea: how much are we paying (or will we pay) Daniels every year in pension dollars? I bet it makes me ill.

    • Scott

      Is this information available some where? I know that there are databases re how much city employees are paid, but is pension information available?

  • kjb

    The only things that fall from Samuel Daniels mouth…..besides all of his teeth, are LIES. There is always more to the story then he says or writes.

  • kjb

    My question is, if there is any truth to what he wrote is his affidavit then why wait 6 years to address these “issues”? What is his real motivation? Why now? Judge Fogleman is not even the Chairman anymore, he is a Judge. Daniels get a life!

  • Beth Hawks

    Stephan Fogelman’s leadership at the helm of the liquor board was the only chance communities had. He was & is beyond reproach.
    I thank him for all that he did for all the residents because HE lives in the city whereas 9 out of 10 bar owners flee the city for the county. They take the $$$ & run!!!
    Shame on Sam Daniels! Absolutely despicable!
    The audit proved what a useless agency that place was/ is…pay-o-la is alive & well & now that Daniels is a “gun for hire,” for the bars…(his words, not mine!) God help any community willing too take on a protest!
    BUT keep up the good fight……because residents deserve too be heard & respected!

    • Tom Gregory

      Hi Beth, I’m not quite in agreement with you about Fogleman’s leadership. I believe in time a very different story will unravel about the political influence held over the LB. With that said, know that we all miss you in Federal Hill and hope you are doing well in Fell’s Point. Brew reader’s should all know about the brave fight you put up to protect you retail business against bar owners, vandals and drunks on Cross Street in Federal Hill.

  • MC2012

    Remarkable move on Mr. Daniels’ part, cashing in on 20 years of incompetence! Planning an appeal, no problem- for a fee- he’ll now tell all, “oh, yeah, we really messed that one up… Lost the records… Fudged the inspection… Neglected procedure, I mean we didn’t even have procedures.”

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