Booze News: Distilled in Room 215

A blog about the Baltimore City Liquor Board

What happened at the Liquor Board on February 27, 2014.

Written by Becky Witt

Chairman Fogleman and Commissioners Jones and Smith in attendance.

Chairman Fogleman announced that two cases from the docket had been administratively postponed: 33 W. North Avenue and 509-13 S. Broadway.

1:00pm docket

Applicants Jae Ho Choo & Sung Soo Kim
Business Name JH Choo, Inc.
Trading As Bermuda Liquors
Address 1801-03 E. North Avenue
Type of License Class “BD7” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Reason for Hearing Application to transfer ownership.
Hearing notes

Mr. David Wu spoke for his clients, the applicants. He informed the Board that the applicants will maintain the same trade name and the same corporate name as the current licensees; they don’t intend to make any physical changes to the store. The applicants are attempting to see if they can get in touch with the neighborhood association. They have attended alcohol awareness classes and are aware of the Board’s liquor regulations.

Chairman Fogleman noted that Mr. Choo has worked at Mall Spirits at 6630 Reisterstown Road in Baltimore City. He asked Mr. Choo if his establishment had had any violations with the Board while he was on the other license, and Mr. Choo responded that it had not.

Zoning R-7
Neighborhood Broadway East
Area Demographics 1% White, 96% Black, 0% Asian, 1% 2 or more races; 1% Hispanic ethnicity; 35% of households have children under age 18; Median Household Income: $26,431.68; 21% households live below poverty line
Does corp entity exist, in good standing? Yes; Yes
Location of entity’s principal office 1801 E. North Avenue, Baltimore, MD
Attorney for licensee Mr. David Wu
# in support 2 (applicants)
Attorney for community None
# of protestants None
# of inspectors 0
Result of hearing Approved
Vote tally Unanimous
Portions of state law cited in decision Article 2B section 10-202(a)
Other reasons given for decision Both have retail experience.
Issues raised in audit present in this case None.
Applicants Lesley Helm, Scott Helm, & Robin Hough
Business Name Chesapeake Shakespeare Company
Trading As Trade Name Pending
Address 7 S. Calvert Street
Type of License Class “BD7” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Reason for Hearing Application to transfer ownership and location of Class “BD7” Beer, Wine & Liquor License presently located at 300 E. Saratoga Street; Request for live entertainment
Hearing notes

The three applicants were present, unrepresented. Mr. Scott Helm spoke for the group and explained the concept to the Board. The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company puts on one hundred performances per year of Shakespeare and other classic plays. The CSC has purchased a building at Redwood and Calvert Streets, and they will be opening in September 2014. The new building will hold 250 people on three levels.

The Board expressed concern about the possibility that someone could pass an alcoholic beverage to underage patrons at a performance. The applicants reassured the Board that the house management staff would be monitoring alcohol consumption, that the average audience age is in the 40s, and that minors generally attend CSC shows (if at all) in the company of their parents.

Chairman Fogleman noted that the application lacked information on who will be the full time operator of the facility. The applicants told the Board that the managing director will be Leslie Helm and that Ian Gallanar will be the artistic director. Chairman Fogleman noted that the Board does need to know before CSC opens who the full time manager will be. He told the applicants that they will need to amend their application to include this information, that they could do so by letter, and that the amendment would not have to be physically on the application.

Chairman Fogleman also inquired about the purchase price of the business, which was another piece of information that was missing from the application. The applicants replied that the purchase price for the building was $1.25 million and that the liquor license had been purchased independently for $45,000. The applicants did not know who was the current licensee was, and the Board did not have the information at hand, either. The Chairman indicated that they would have to clarify this for their application to be complete. Mr. Helm indicated that the broker involved in the purchase of the license was sensitive about the identity of the current licensee.

Watch the hearing on YouTube:

Zoning B-4-2
Neighborhood Downtown
Area Demographics 39% White, 37% Black, 16% Asian, 3% 2 or more races; 5% Hispanic ethnicity; 9% of households have children under age 18; Median Household Income: $38,146; 18% households live below poverty line
Does corp entity exist, in good standing? Yes, Yes
Location of entity’s principal office Suite 350, 1 North Charles Street, Baltimore, MD
Attorney for licensee None
# in support 3 – applicants
Attorney for community None
# of protestants 0
# of inspectors 1 – Agent Mark Fosler, filling in for Inspector John Howard.
Result of hearing Approved
Vote tally Unanimous
Portions of state law cited in decision Article 2B section 10-202(a)
Other reasons given for decision The Board didn’t go into the live entertainment portion of the application on the record during the hearing, but, according to the Board, the live entertainment to be provided was self-explanatory. There were letters submitted in support of the project from various parties.
Issues raised in audit present in this case or other issues observed

When the Board examines a transfer application, the only file before the Board as they make their decision is the transfer file. The current licensee’s file remains at the Board’s offices, which is why the Board couldn’t tell who is the current licensee, much less examine whether the current license is even valid under state law. This lack of attention to the current licensee’s file means that the transfer and revival of dead licenses is all too easy.

BLLC staff also scheduled the hearing without a complete application on file, including the name of the full-time operator of the business and the purchase price of the business.

Applicant Lois Finifter
Business Name M.M. & T., Inc.
Trading As Joe’s Place
Address 6200 Reisterstown Road
Type of License Class “BD7” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Reason for Hearing Application to transfer ownership from personal representative
Hearing notes

Attorney Fred Lauer represented the applicant. The applicant’s brother, Marlo Smith, was the owner of this license for 23 years, and he died about two years ago. The applicant took over as her brother’s personal representative and is now applying to be the licensee. Most recently, she has taken over and run the place, doing all of the work that a manager would do. She has extensive knowledge of the business. There won’t be any change to the facility itself.

The applicant has worked with the Glen Neighborhood Association, and to the best of the applicant’s knowledge, the association has no objection to the transfer of ownership. She submitted three letters of support of the transfer from community businesses.

Chairman Fogleman noted that there is a $26,000 lien (debt) attached to the license, which needs to be taken care of before the applicant can pick up the license.

The Board then examined the three required character witnesses in the application. Only two character witnesses of the five provided in the file satisfied the statutory requirement of being both real property owners and registered voters in Baltimore City. Chairman Fogleman informed the applicant that she would have to come back with another character witness signature filled in on the application and that the Board would have to hold another hearing the following week.

Zoning B-3-1
Neighborhood Reisterstown Station
Area Demographics 28% White, 63% Black, 1% Asian; 5% Hispanic ethnicity; 27% households have children under age 18; median household income: $37,372.32; 18% of households living below the poverty line.
Does corp entity exist, in good standing? Yes; Yes
Location of entity’s principal office 6200 Reisterstown Road, Baltimore, MD
Attorney for licensee Mr. Fred Lauer
# in support 1
Attorney for community None
# of protestants 0
# of inspectors 1 – Jeffrey Ray
Result of hearing Continued – need one additional character witness
Vote tally N/A
Portions of state law cited in decision None
Other reasons given for decision None
Issues raised in audit present in this case or other issues observed The Board occasionally schedules hearings for applicants whose applications are incomplete (in this case, the character witness information provided was inadequate). Under the proposed 2014 Liquor Board Reform legislation, all applications must be complete and all documents available online 14 days before the scheduled hearing.
Applicants Jason Chang & Hanry Deford
Business Name Baltimore Katana, Inc.
Trading As Katana
Address 843-45 S. Montford Avenue
Type of License Class “B” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Reason for Hearing Application to transfer ownership from Contract Purchaser.
Hearing notes

Chairman Fogleman opened the file in front of him and immediately asked Mr. Kodenski about the applicants’ corporate entity. Mr. Kodenski showed the Board a signed copy of articles of incorporation and argued that the articles are effective when they are signed, so they do not need to be filed with the State in order to be effective.

The Board did not ask for any citations to state law or to relevant caselaw but decided to take a brief recess in order to look at the law and decide what to do.

When the Board reconvened, Chairman Fogleman explained that the Board took the recess so that it would not be rushed into a decision. He noted that this issue has come up before: that occasionally applicants for liquor licenses do not have a valid corporation on the date of their hearing but rather file a week afterwards. The Chairman stated that this practice does not give enough transparency for those who might be concerned about a license. Article 2B section 9-101 shows that you do not have to have a corporate entity in order to hold a liquor license. You can hold a license as a sole proprietorship. However, when you apply for a license and represent that you have a corporation on the application, you should have an incorporated organization. He added that a corporation can’t be in good standing with the State until it files its articles with the State. The Chairman told Mr. Kodenski and his clients that the Board knows that Kodenski will file the articles, so the Board will hear testimony about the corporation and will order the applicant to bring proof of good standing by close of business tomorrow.

The Chairman also pointed out that the applicants had signed the application as officers of a corporate entity that did not exist.

Mr. Kodenski told the Board that the omission was not the applicants’ faults; Mr. Kodenski was supposed to prepare the documents before the snowstorm in February and the weather got in the way.

Chairman Fogleman replied that the Board had allowed this practice (of applicants not having a valid corporate entity) for a long time, and that the Board has meant to address it for a while.

The applicants submitted a letter in support of the project from Mr. Dan Tracy of the Canton Community Association, subject to the applicants’ agreement to follow voluntary outdoor table service guidelines. They also submitted a petition of neighbors in support of the project. Alcohol sales should be a relatively small percentage of total sales. The applicants are not applying for live entertainment. Mr. Chang is currently a licensee on the license for his family’s restaurant in Howard County.

Mr. Abolfzl Kamouei testified in opposition to the transfer; he told the Board that he and his brother had already paid a large deposit for the license, but that the building had had major structural issues. Mr. Kamouei told the Board that the current licensees are transferring the license without giving Mr. Kamouei and his brother their deposit back.

Mr. Kodenski pointed out to Mr. Kamouei that there is an ongoing criminal investigation regarding the lease of the building, and he reminded Mr. Kamouei that he was testifying under oath. Chairman Fogleman asked Mr. Kamouei whether he understood his Fifth Amendment rights; Mr. Kamouei replied that he did.

At this point in the hearing, Commissioner Jones recused himself from the proceedings because he had some connection to this property in his other position at the Baltimore City Housing Department.

Zoning R-8
Neighborhood Canton
Area Demographics 86% White, 4% Black, 3% Asian; 5% Hispanic ethnicity; 9% households have children under age 18; median household income: $82,130.
Does corp entity exist, in good standing? “Baltimore Katana, Inc.” did not exist on the date of the hearing, according to an SDAT search; however, “Katana, Inc.” does exist and was dissolved in 2010. Baltimore Katana, Inc. was incorporated the day after the Liquor Board hearing, on February 28, 2014.
Location of entity’s principal office 843-45 S. Montford Ave, Baltimore, MD 21224
Attorney for licensee Mr. Melvin Kodenski
# in support 3
Attorney for community None
# of protestants 2?
# of inspectors 1 – Karen Brooks
Result of hearing Approved.
Vote tally Fogleman and Smith in favor. Jones recused himself.
Portions of state law cited in decision Article 2B section 10-202(a)
Other reasons given for decision Chairman Fogleman noted that applicants do not have to have a corporate entity to apply for a liquor license. Individuals may apply for a liquor license on their own. However, if you do apply as a corporation, the corporate entity must be in good standing with the state. In this case, Mr. Kodenski had not filed the required paperwork to form the corporate entity due to weather delays. According to Maryland’s Corporate Code, a corporation is not formed until its articles are filed with the State Department of Assessments and Taxation (SDAT). He concluded, “For our purposes, it’s not a corporation yet, but it’s a corporation that all of you told me that you intend to file tomorrow. We’re comfortable that we have all the corporate data that we need.” The Chairman added that the business will be in the location of the former Red Fish; “God help you. It’s possibly one of the most difficult locations in Canton. We would love to see that property remain open full time.”
Issues raised in audit present in this case The Legislative Audit found that the Board often approved applications that were not complete. In this case, the applicants had signed their application as officers of a nonexistent corporate entity. Mr. Kodenski submitted signed and notarized articles of incorporation, but state law requires that said articles be filed with the State before they take effect. The State also does not require that the articles be notarized.

2:00pm docket

Licensees Vincent Griffin & Sierra Dennison
Business Name GM Holdings, Inc.
Trading As Lust
Address 408 E. Baltimore Street
Type of License Class “BD7” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Reason for Hearing Violations of Adult Entertainment and BLLC Rules pertaining to a lack of employment records for the employees and solicitation of an undercover police officer for sexual intercourse.
Hearing notes

Mr. Joel Fradin entered a not guilty plea on all charges listed, on behalf of Sierra Dennison, his client.

Employment Records Violations: BLLC agent Mark Fosler testified that he had seen all required employment records, and that he had not personally witnessed any violations of the Rules at this address. Supervisor Qist Ka’bah testified that he had asked employees for employment records on a different night and the employees had been unable to provide them. After some testimony from Agent Fosler and Supervisor Ka’bah about the employment records, Mr. Fradin moved to dismiss the recordkeeping violations, and the Board agreed. Mr. Ka’bah could not prove that he had actually asked an employee for the records and not just a random person in the establishment.

Prostitution Solicitation Violations: Baltimore City Police Detective Fletcher Jackson testified that he had entered the establishment in plainclothes on April 23, 2013, at 8:30pm as part of a prostitution investigation. He used his police report to refresh his recollection of what had happened during the encounter at the establishment, since it had occurred 10 months prior to the hearing.

Detective Fletcher was approached by a woman at the establishment, who began to dance for him. The detective complimented the woman on a tattoo on her back that read “blessed;” the detective’s testimony about what he said to the woman was rather explicit. Chairman Fogleman stopped the detective, reminded him that the proceedings are recorded and are broadcast live, and asked him to paraphrase the conversation, omitting any graphic descriptions. The detective continued with his testimony, relaying to the Board that he had suggested two sexual acts to the woman and that she had replied that it would cost him. He asked her how much it would cost, and she replied that it would cost $150 and the detective agreed. At that point, he texted other police officers who were waiting nearby, and they entered the establishment.

After Detective Fletcher’s testimony, Mr. Fradin cross-examined him, asking whether any sex act took place or whether the woman attempted to have sex with him in the club. The detective replied no to both questions. Mr. Fradin noted that there was no actual act, just a discussion about sex. He argued that there was no agreement between Detective Fletcher and the woman. She could have been talking about anything, including taking her home, dinner, any other things that a man and a woman could discuss. Detective Fletcher disagreed, stating that no one would pay $150 to get a ride home. Mr. Fradin responded that, according to the detective’s testimony, the woman had asked, “you want to see more of me?” and that the cost was $150. Mr. Fradin said, “You never actually took her home. You were just kind of like talking.”

Mr. Fradin then asked if the licensee was present during the communication with the dancer. Detective Fletcher replied that she was not. Chairman Fogleman asked the detective how long the conversation lasted with the dancer and Detective Fletcher replied 10 minutes. At one point, the bartender asked if the detective needed a refill on his drink, but no one else was around.

Mr. Fradin concluded his argument by telling the Board that it is not even necessary to call this particular dancer to testify about her conversation with Detective Fletcher, because the conclusion that the Board should draw is so clear. There was some discussion between the two. There was no understanding between the parties about what may or may not happen “in the sanctity of the club” or what the money may be for.

Watch part of this hearing (the detective’s testimony and the decision phase of the hearing) on YouTube:

Zoning B-5-2
Neighborhood Downtown
Area Demographics 39% White, 37% Black, 16% Asian, 3% 2 or more races; 5% Hispanic ethnicity; 9% of households have children under age 18; Median Household Income: $38,146; 18% households live below poverty line.
Does corp entity exist, in good standing? Yes; Yes
Location of entity’s principal office 408 E. Baltimore St, Baltimore, MD
Attorney for licensee Mr. Joel Fradin
# in support 1
Attorney for community N/A
# of protestants N/A
# of inspectors 2 – Agent Fosler and Supervisor Ka’bah
Result of hearing

Guilty of violation of Rule 4.17 (No licensee shall permit or suffer his premises to be used for the purpose of any sexual activity, nor shall any licensee permit or suffer any employee, patron or frequenter to solicit any person for prostitution or other immoral purposes.) and Rule 4.18 (“No licensee shall commit or allow the commission on his premises of any act which shall be contrary to any federal, state or local statue, law or ordinance or against the public peace, safety, health, welfare, quiet or morals.”)

30 day suspension of the license: April 1-30, 2014.

Vote tally Fogleman and Jones in favor.
Portions of state law cited in decision None.
Other reasons given for decision

Chairman Fogleman noted that the solicitation did not happen in a bathroom or a small closet; it happened out in the open and was a fairly long conversation. If there was any administration at all in this establishment, the management would have had ample opportunity to intervene. He noted that Detective Fletcher asked for services, and she quoted a price and said okay. There was mutual assent that the detective would give her money in exchange for sexual acts. Fogleman went on to say that the holder of an adult entertainment license is more than aware of the possibility of solicitation occurring on his premises. The licensee should know the history of his or her own establishment. Ms. Dennison lives at the same address as the last licensee for this address, who was charged a $5,000 fine for prostitution. Adult entertainment licensees have a long history of coming in front of the Board for these kinds of violations.

After the guilty verdict, Mr. Fradin had an opportunity to give the Board any information that might help the Board to give an appropriate punishment for the violation. Most attorneys take this opportunity to inform the Board of what their client will do better in the future or what the client has already done to avoid the same situation moving forward. Mr. Fradin, however, merely informed the Board that the licensee would like a minimum fine for the violation, adding, “I don’t think this is really a fine issue. They pay a lot more in legal fees than the fine.” The Board voted to assess a thirty day suspension of the license, from April 1-30, 2014; Chairman Fogleman noted that Article 2B allows the Board to issue a fine of up to $500, to suspend or revoke the license. The Board felt that a $500 fine was not sufficient to correct the behavior.

Issues raised in audit present in this case None

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