Former state delegate, 5 others indicted in city Probe of liquor board alleges bribe scheme

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A former state legislator and the chief inspector of the Baltimore liquor board were indicted yesterday on charges they were involved in a 10-year bribery scheme to thwart enforcement of state liquor laws.

The three-count indictment announced by state Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli accuses former bar owner and former Del. William J. Madonna Jr., 46, of masterminding a conspiracy under which he controlled the appointment and promotion of liquor license inspectors and then bribed them to go easy on bar owners, himself included.

Madonna, the former owner of a video poker machine business, resigned a day before the indictment was announced from a $46,000-a-year post with the state lottery, where he was a liaison with ticket agents statewide.

State Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, who helped him get the lottery job, also pushed unsuccessfully a little over a year ago to have Madonna named to the top administrative job at the liquor board. The job of executive secretary later went to former state Sen. Nathan C. Irby Jr.

Hoffman was out of the country yesterday and could not be reached for comment.

Among the five others also indicted yesterday was Anthony J. Cianferano, 45, the chief inspector of the liquor board and a longtime friend of Madonna's. A board employee since 1977, Cianferano earns $30,632 a year and has headed the enforcement unit for more than a decade.

Madonna and Cianferano were charged along with Michael J. Hyde, 42, a city liquor inspector, and Donald R. Cassell, 47, a former liquor inspector, of conspiring to block enforcement of liquor laws by paying bribes. If convicted, the four could face prison terms of up to 14 years and fines of $6,000.

Montanarelli said the 18-month probe "revealed a scheme extending between July 1988 and February 1998, whereby Madonna, through the control of appointments and promotion of, and payments to, certain liquor inspectors, protected himself and other selected licensees from the enforcement of the liquor law."

While Montanarelli said no definite plans exist to continue the probe, he would not rule out the possibility of other indictments.

'He's deeply disappointed'

Madonna's attorney, Gary Bernstein, said his client vehemently denied all the charges.

"He denies that he ever made any payments to anyone or that he ever acted improperly," said Bernstein. "He's deeply disappointed." Bernstein added that his client voluntarily surrendered to city authorities early yesterday.

He said Madonna had been advised that he was a target of the lengthy grand jury probe but was not called to testify.

Attorneys for the other defendants declined to comment.

Also named as defendants in the indictment were Michael J. Swidowich, 59, of Catonsville, owner of the Twilight Social Club at 3212 Frederick Ave., and Joy J. Nickey, 42, an employee of the club.

The two are charged with attempting to bribe a police officer to help prevent a complaint from being lodged against the club.

Swidowich and Nickey were charged with trying to bribe Sgt. Steven Burrier, an undercover Baltimore police officer, on Feb. 13. The officer reported the bribe attempt to his superiors.

All the defendants are to be arraigned June 19. A trial date has not been set.

Though the two-page indictment gives few details, Police Department and other sources described the lengthy investigation as one of the largest corruption cases undertaken by the department or the prosecutor.

Warning of police raids

According to sources familiar with the investigation, the scheme involved an organized system under which bar and club owners were warned in advance of raids or undercover operations. The raids were undertaken to detect underage drinking, gambling, prostitution and other violations of state laws.

Sources said that bar owners, in addition to being tipped off about raids, were able to arrange with board personnel to tamper with or destroy records showing prior violations and enforcement actions. Several bar owners are expected to be called as witnesses in the case.

"That has gone on in bars all over the city for years," said one Police Department veteran.

He said his officers many times would raid bars where undercover colleagues or sources had witnessed wrongdoing, such as gambling or prostitution, only to find the bar running lawfully when they went in. He said police often sent in sources afterward, who were told by managers: "We knew the cops were coming."

Evidence collected in the case, sources said, also involves the sale of tickets to political fund-raisers by board employees.

Montanarelli refused yesterday to discuss any details of the investigation or to elaborate on the charges. He declined to comment when asked whether the probe involved wiretaps or other electronic surveillance, or whether bar owners or other liquor board employees had been granted immunity in return for their testimony.

James I. Cabezas, an investigator in Montanarelli's office, said the probe would not have been successful without the "cooperation of several hard-working and honest board employees."

Liquor board Chairman Leonard R. Skolnik said immediate action would be taken against Cianferano.

"At the very least, he'll be suspended," he said, adding that the matter would be taken up by the board as soon as a meeting could be scheduled. He said Hyde's case would be referred to city personnel officials, because liquor inspectors are covered by the city civil service system. Hyde's annual salary is $19,827.

"I'm disappointed," said Skolnik, who took over as chairman last year. "We're not going to tolerate that behavior."

Skolnik, the chairman for many years of Hoffman's senatorial campaign committee, said he was not aware of liquor inspectors being asked to sell tickets to fund-raisers.

"I'm glad that it's over, and it better not happen again," Skolnik said of the charges.

Wrongful termination suit

Montanarelli's probe dates to 1996, when a fired liquor inspector, Marion P. Turner, charged that she had been dismissed after she refused to engage in what she called illegal acts.

Turner is still fighting to get her job back. This week, her attorneys argued her case before the state Court of Special Appeals. Her wrongful termination suit had been thrown out by Circuit Judge Albert J. Matricciani Jr.

Turner, who had been a liquor inspector for five years, was fired in May 1996 after then-Sen. Larry Young withdrew his sponsorship of her.

She charged that Young was angry when he learned she had been questioned by an FBI agent who was seeking information about the senator and his relationship with Kenneth A. Jackson, a felon who was seeking a liquor license. Turner said she refused to answer the federal agent's questions but was fired anyway.

When the probe became public, it was met with skepticism.

"I seriously doubt it will amount to anything," John A. Pica Jr., then a member of the state Senate, said at the time.

Until a law was passed a year ago, liquor board employees were hired under a patronage system controlled by the city's Senate delegation. The new law placed the inspectors under the city civil service system.

Relationship questioned

The board has frequently been accused of favoritism and corruption.

A little more than a year ago, The Sun reported that liquor board files showed questions had been raised about the relationship between Cianferano and Madonna.

In one case, the board files showed, Cianferano had called a state official to ask why a bar Madonna owned was being investigated.

An informant, other board records showed, had told a federal investigator that Cianferano was a secret partner in a bar Madonna owned on Greenmount Avenue.

Surveillance by The Sun showed the close relationship between the two. On Jan. 23, 1997, Cianferano left his city office on South Street and, after stops at two Locust Point bars, picked up Madonna. The two spent more than an hour together before Cianferano dropped Madonna off at Madonna's lawyer's office.

One of the bars Cianferano visited that day had a video poker machine owned by Madonna's vending machine company. Madonna denied that Cianferano or any other board employees serviced his poker machines.

In an interview last year, Madonna described Cianferano as a "close" friend and said neither had done anything wrong.

Pub Date: 5/07/98

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