Two weeks after Baltimore County police seized electronic gambling machines from a Dundalk bar co-owned by state Del. Joseph J. "Sonny" Minnick, authorities filed gambling-related charges against four people.
Daniel J. Minnick, the delegate's 85-year-old brother and an owner of Minnick's Restaurant, a bartender and two customers were charged with illegal gambling and wagering. Daniel Minnick, who served in the House of Delegates from 1967-1982, also faces four counts of possessing slot machines.
The delegate, who is 78 and represents eastern Baltimore County in the state legislature, was not charged in the case.
Court documents filed by police say that bartender Diana M. Anthony, 58, who has worked at Minnick's since 2004, informed a detective after a police raid last month that "both Daniel and Sonny have told her to be careful who she pays out to and to only pay known customers."
A call to Anthony's phone number Thursday was answered by a man who said she would not comment on the matter. The Minnick brothers did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Daniel Minnick, who lives a couple of doors from the tavern, is listed on a county permit application for electronic "amusement devices" that police say were being used in the bar on Sollers Point Road. The liquor license is in the names of the Minnick brothers and a third person.
Police raided the tavern June 29 and said they seized five electronic gambling devices. Officers were acting on an anonymous complaint that had been passed on to the Police Department on May 13 by the county's liquor board, police said at the time.
During the raid, Sonny Minnick and his wife, Barbara, arrived at the tavern, and he identified himself as its owner, according to the charging document. Minnick was told that a search warrant was being executed and he was asked whether he planned to leave or stay. "I'm staying here until you all leave," police quoted the delegate as saying. "You know, dealing with all these criminals."
Minnick asked what was going to happen to the gambling machines the police were taking away. A detective replied that they would be destroyed after any court cases were adjudicated. "What if I'm found not guilty?" Minnick responded, according to the court document. "Do I get them back?"
Two weeks earlier, on June 17, the documents say, two undercover detectives had gone to Minnick's, sat at the bar and observed a customer playing on one of four so-called electronic gambling devices. After a while, the man told Anthony that "he had a few transactions for her," the documents state.
He added that he had "2000 points on the machine," according to the charging document, which says Anthony removed money from the cash register. The two customers charged with gambling-related charges were identified as John E. Wiessner, 60, and Richard G. Bell, 65.
Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger said Thursday that, to avoid an appearance of a conflict, his office would refer the case to prosecutors in another jurisdiction.
Michael Mohler, chief administrator for the Board of Liquor License Commissioners, said last week that the agency had been told that the Minnicks' bar "has been paying off on poker machines and has been for years."
Some neighbors said they wonder what motivated the anonymous complaint that triggered the police investigation, and no one seemed to think this would harm his standing among his constituents. Minnick was re-elected in 2010 to a fifth four-year term, and political observers do not consider him likely to run again.
"I don't think this will hurt him at all," said Timothy Holland, president of the Battle Grove Democratic Club in Dundalk. "The people of Dundalk know Sonny has always been for the people of Dundalk."
The machines are a familiar sight in Maryland restaurants, convenience and liquor stores, bars and veterans' halls. They carry a tag that says "For Amusement Only," but reports over the years — including a 63-page study published by the Abell Foundation in 2006 — have shown that players are commonly paid illegal winnings in cash.
The Abell report by former Baltimore Sun reporter Joan Jacobson said there were nearly 3,500 machines in Baltimore City and Baltimore County at that time, with annual income between $91 million and $181 million, "most of which goes unreported to tax collectors." The study estimated that the county was getting at most about half and perhaps as little as nearly a fifth of the taxes it was owed from the revenue on the machines.
Two years after the Abell report came out, Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot announced that he was cracking down on the machines, and was quoted in The Baltimore Sun saying there would be "no more turning a blind eye. No more wink and a nod. ... I intend to shut them down."
That didn't sit well with Minnick, who has served in the House of Delegates for 18 years — from 1988 to 1990 and since 1995. "The comptroller is drinking too much of some kind of Kool-Aid," Minnick told The Sun in 2008, adding that he thought Franchot was "overstepping his bounds."
He insisted at the time that the machines in his bar did not make "" and pointed out that he was paying hundreds of dollars a year in licensing fees and taxes for each game device.
"If they weren't legal, why would Baltimore County require a license to have them in your establishment?" Minnick said at the time.