It was like an old movie. The mild-mannered accountant who cooked the books to protect a cash-skimming operation at a Timonium restaurant invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to testify before the Baltimore County Liquor Board.
The attorney for the licensee, Richard M. Karceski, tried to pounce.
He argued that Francis Fidati, a CPA serving a house-arrest sentence for aiding and abetting tax evasion, was the primary source of information that led to the jailing of the co-owners of the Parlay Cafe.
Without Fidati's testimony, an IRS agent could only repeat hearsay, the lawyer said.
Good try, the board said, but not quite good enough.
Chairman William R. Snyder said the board is an administrative body and that IRS Agent Woodland R. Morris and county Detective Doug Dunlap could testify at Monday's hearing about the gambling probe that began in 1989 and continued into 1992.
Detective Dunlap said a bookmaking and gambling investigation begun by county police in mid-1989 led to guilty pleas by Stanley J. Zaban, of Lutherville, a Parlay Cafe co-owner, and Herman Neumyer, who now lives in Las Vegas.
Records seized in that case involved the Parlay Cafe, the detective said. Federal agents brought in on the case began to focus on Zaban and Gary J. Genovese, of Cockeysville, one of the restaurant's liquor licensees, Detective Dunlap said.
A second set of account books Fidati gave the IRS showed Zaban used the cafe to launder cash disguised as "consultant fees" for which he did no work.
They also showed Zaban and Genovese skimmed receipts and split the money without reporting it for taxes, Agent Morris said.
Fidati pleaded guilty to helping Zaban prepare phony tax returns.
Faced with those books and other records, Zaban and Genovese pleaded guilty in Federal Court.
Zaban is serving 27 months for money laundering, gambling, bank fraud and tax evasion. Genovese is serving eight months for tax evasion. Agent Morris said the pair skimmed more than $315,000 in four years.
Monday's 2 1/2 -hour hearing ended with the three-member board ordering Shirley Zaban, Stanley Zaban's wife and the only licensee present, to pay a $2,000 fine.
The board also suspended liquor sales at the Parlay Cafe from March 7 through March 15.
Speaking with studied understatement, Mr. Snyder said the charges arose from "the whole practice of failing to use standard accounting procedures."
Because potential buyers are already working at the Padonia Road cafe, Mr. Karceski tried a final gambit. Noting that the board could have imposed an even longer suspension, he asked the board to substitute a larger fine for the eight-day suspension.
By doing this, he said, the sale -- scheduled for settlement yesterday -- could proceed and the new owners, employees and creditors would not be punished for the Zaban-Genovese misdeeds.
Mr. Snyder said the board sympathized with the employees who will lose wages during the suspension, but also said the decision would stand.
A hearing to transfer the license has been postponed until Mrs. Zaban decides whether to appeal the suspension.
Mr. Karceski said sale negotiations are continuing.