Financial backers of Decker's liquors plead guilty to federal conspiracy charges

The Howard County couple who provided financial backing to the owners of Decker's Wine and Spirits in Bel Air are ordered to pay combined fines of more than $1 million after pleading guilty Thursday to federal charges of conspiracy that also implicate a former Prince Georges County police officer and that county's former county executive.

Ravinder Kaur Melhi, 49, of Clarksville, who financed the purchase of Decker's on Route 1 in 2005, pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiracy based on a scheme to illegally access an MVA computer to gain personal information of individuals who owed her and her husband's businesses money, and use that information to collect.

Her husband, Amrik Singh Melhi, 51, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to interfere with commerce by extortion under color of official right for a scheme that involved transporting and distributing untaxed alcohol.

Ravinder Melhi gave Decker's licensee Joseph Borromeo $550,000 to finance the store in 2005 when it was bought from the Decker family.

The Melhis also owned and operated several other businesses, primarily in Prince George's County, including Tick Tock Liquors in Hyattsville and Langways Liquors in Lanham.

Amrik Melhi admitted he conspired with Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson, Prince George's County Police officer Richard Delabrer and others to, "obstruct commerce by extortion," according to a release from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Amrik Melhi agreed to pay Delabrer to escort shipments of untaxed alcohol in Maryland and Virginia and assist in the distribution of the contraband, according to his plea agreement.

He also gave money, campaign donations and other things to Jack Johnson to help him obtain licenses and permit inspections in Prince George's County, and influencing legislation in the interests of Melhi's businesses.

In June 2009 another conspirator started discussing the scheme with a confidential source and an undercover FBI agent. By July 2009, Delabrer started purchasing contraband alcohol from the undercover agent while providing security for the deliveries, all while in possession of his police identification and service weapon, according to the plea agreement.

Ravinder Melhi asked Delabrer in May 2010 to access the MVA database to help find someone who passed a check without sufficient funds at one of their businesses, according to her plea agreement.

Amrik Melhi faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and Ravinder Melhi faces up to five years in prison, according to the release.

As part of the plea agreements, Amrik Melhi agreed to forfeit $975,327.32 and the court agreed to recommend Ravinder Melhi pay a fine of $25,000.

Amrik Melhi's sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 12 and his wife's is scheduled for Oct. 11.

Delabrer, 46, of Laurel, pleaded guilty in May to conspiracy to interfere with commerce by extortion under color of official right and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence. He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a mandatory five years to life in prison for the gun charge.

This is not the first time this month that someone associated with Decker's has been penalized for wrongdoing.

Federal agents searched the liquor store last November as part of the investigation into the Melhis. The investigators found dozens of bottles that Decker's had not purchased from a licensed wholesaler.

On June 1, as a penalty for improper record-keeping and purchasing liquor from someone other than a licensed wholesaler, the Harford County Liquor Control Board suspended the license for the liquor store for 30 days and then revoked the license for making a false application for liquor license renewal.

The licensees, Borromeo, a 75 percent owner, and Virgil Dale Davis, a 25 percent owner, can never apply for a liquor license in Harford County again, according to the liquor board's action, which is still subject to possible court appeal. In addition, no one can take over the license for six months after the revocation goes into effect, which is at the end of the 30-day suspension.

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