Booze News: Distilled in Room 215

A blog about the Baltimore City Liquor Board

What happened at the Liquor Board on October 1, 2015.

Written by Becky Witt

1:00pm

I. Expedited Items.

Applicants Robert Branch, William Griffin, Jr., & RaShana Marley
Business Name The Art Room, Inc.
Trading As Picasso’s
Address 2101 Maryland Avenue
Type of License Class “B” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Reason for hearing Application for a new Class “B” Beer, Wine & Liquor restaurant license under the provisions of Rule 2.08 requiring $200,000 in capital investment in restaurant fixtures and facilities and seating capacity for a minimum of 75 people, request for outdoor table service, and off-premises catering
Hearing notes

Mr. Kodenski represented the three applicants; he proffered on their behalf that the applicants and their landlord plan to complete $348,000 worth of investment in the property, and he submitted additional supporting evidence of this investment. There had been a restaurant at this location that failed, and the former tenants were evicted by their landlord. Kodenski submitted a letter of support from Mr. Don Donahue, president of Charles North Community Association, along with some petitions in favor of the transfer. The applicants plan to do some live entertainment, like poetry readings. Kodenski said that he is not personally a poetry person. The property is not big enough, according to the attorney to have a lot of live entertainment.

Zoning B-2-3
Neighborhood Charles North
Area demographics 53% White, 32% Black, 8% Asian, 3% 2 or more races; 4% Hispanic ethnicity; 6% households have children under age 18; median household income: $38,331; 5.5% households live below poverty line
Does corp entity exist, in good standing? Yes; yes.
Location of entity’s principal office Baltimore, MD
One applicant reside in Balt for 2 yrs? Yes
Pecuniary interest of Baltimore City resident 40%
Attorney for licensee Mr. Melvin Kodenski
# in support 4
Attorney for community None
# of protestants 0
# of inspectors/police officers 0
Result of hearing Approved
Vote tally Unanimous
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 None

II. Regular Docket (new applications and hardship extension requests):

Applicant Song Ja Lee
Business Name Pat Liquors, Inc.
Trading As J & J Liquors
Address 2601 N. Hilton Street
Type of License Class “A” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Reason for hearing Request for a hardship extension under the provisions of Article 2B Section 10-504(d)
Hearing notes

Executive Secretary Michelle Bailey-Hedgepeth noted that the BLLC offices had received a letter from the licensee on May 8, 2015, stating that the store had been damaged during the unrest in west Baltimore in late April. She wanted to make sure that the licensee had the full 360 days to rebuild, so, when the licensee sent in a hardship extension request on July 1, 2015, she scheduled the hearing for the hardship request at the 180-day mark.

Chairman Neil asked whether the licensee plans to rebuild. He responded that he does want to reopen, though it has been hard. He might try to move the license to a different area of the city.

Zoning R-6
Neighborhood Hanlon-Longwood
Area demographics 1% White, 96% Black, 0% Asian; 1% Hispanic ethnicity; 30% households have children under age 18; median household income: $38,912.3; 12.8% households live below the poverty line.
Does corp entity exist, in good standing? Yes; yes.
Location of entity’s principal office Lutherville, MD
One applicant reside in Balt for 2 yrs? N/A
Pecuniary interest of Baltimore City resident N/A
Attorney for licensee None
# in support 2
Attorney for community None
# of protestants 0
# of inspectors/police officers 0
Result of hearing Approved
Vote tally Unanimous
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 None
Applicant Jose Ribadeneira
Business Name Latin Palace-Uno Inc.
Trading As Latin Palace
Address 509-13 S. Broadway
Type of License Class “B” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Reason for hearing Request to add live entertainment and remove restrictions
Hearing notes

Mr. John Pica proffered the case on behalf of Mr. Ribadeneira, who did not testify. Pica told the commissioners that the Liquor Board is quite familiar with this licensee. Ribadeneira was suspended 21 days, then 60 days, for having live entertainment without permission from the Board. Then, when the licensee attempted to get the live entertainment restrictions lifted, the Board denied his request. Pica said that the licensee originally got his license in 1998, which he bought from the Fells Point Theater. The license had some unusual restrictions on it, but, for whatever reason, according to Pica, Mr. Ribadeneira thought he had permission for unlimited live entertainment. When Ribadeneira decided to transfer the license to his daughter, he learned about the restrictions and applied to have them removed in June 2013. Before the licensee asked to have the restrictions removed, there were no complaints about the business. After the request, there were complaints every week from neighbors about live entertainment. Pica stated that if his client is not granted permission for live entertainment, he will have to close the business. Mr. Ribadeneira had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with local community associations when he had not been represented by an attorney. Pica stated that he was forced into signing the agreement in order to keep his license and suggested that the Board should not adopt and enforce the agreement for this reason.

Chairman Neil noted that the BMZA resolution allowing the live entertainment incorporated all of the provisions of the MOU when it was adopted in 2014. Mr. Pica said that the live entertainment permission was never granted by the Liquor Board. Neil responded that that was true, but the permissions were granted by the BMZA, and they made the permission conditional on the 2014 MOU, which the Board can’t supersede. Pica was unaware of this. He tried again to argue that the provisions that his client had agreed to the previous year were “unreasonable;” the commissioners replied that the BMZA had already approved the use and occupancy subject to those conditions. Pica then stated that, in that case, “we are stuck with the MOU.”

Joanne Masopust, president of the Fells Point Community Organization, then testified on behalf of her organization that she had negotiated, not imposed, the MOU. She said that Mr. Ribadeneira was very aware of the conditions on his license over the years, because they were printed directly on the license itself. She agreed that there were few or no complaints before the request to remove the restrictions, but community members had been living with a nuisance for years before they realized that they were able to complain about it. There was one neighbor in particular who had tried for years to work out a disagreement regarding the noise level at Latin Palace, and Mr. Ribadeneira had been extremely difficult to work with. She testified, on her own behalf, and on behalf of two other area organizations that they would agree to lift the restrictions on the license, provided that the MOU is incorporated as conditions on the liquor license. She said that she wanted the MOU to be attached to the license and kept on the premises at all times.

The commissioners were resistant to Ms. Masopust’s request that they make the restrictions in the MOU incorporated as conditions on the license. Chairman Neil said that if BMZA has already incorporated all of the elements of the MOU, which are now the conditions of the use and occupancy permit, why would the Liquor Board also need to attach the same conditions? Ms. Masopust replied that she was not aware of zoning inspectors who routinely check whether businesses are adhering to conditions or not; she said that, in her experience, it’s difficult to get the zoning administrator to enforce the law. To make enforcement easier, she argued that the conditions should be attached to the liquor license so that inspectors can enforce them.

Commissioner Trotter asked Ms. Masopust why there hadn’t been many complaints before 2013. Masopust responded that community members often didn’t think it was worth their time to report issues to the Liquor Board, because nothing was ever done. For thirteen years, the Liquor Board’s inspectors knew that Mr. Ribadeneira was violating the conditions of his license, and they did nothing about it. Chairman Neil replied that this new set of commissioners was just appointed on July 9 of this year, and “people need to give us a chance to do our job.” Later in the same hearing, after more discussion on the topic, and more resistance from commissioners, Ms. Masopust reiterated that it would be much easier, logistically, for Liquor Board inspectors to enforce the provisions of the agreement if they were referenced on the license and attached to it. Chairman Neil replied that the Liquor Board is not in “privity of contract” with the members of the agreement.

Mr. Pica proffered, on behalf of Mr. Bustamante, who was at one point a member of the Baltimore City Planning Commission and is now retired, that this is the only place that Mr. Bustamante can go to hear his culture’s Latin music. Mr. Bustamante, again, through Mr. Pica, stated that he never witnessed an event that would give rise to a Liquor Board complaint.

Zoning B-2-2
Neighborhood Fells Point
Area demographics 53% White, 32% Black, 8% Asian, 3% 2 or more races; 4% Hispanic ethnicity; 6% households have children under age 18; Median Household Income: $38,331; 5.5 % households live below poverty line.
Does corp entity exist, in good standing? Yes; yes
Location of entity’s principal office Baltimore, MD
One applicant reside in Balt for 2 yrs? N/A
Pecuniary interest of Baltimore City resident N/A
Attorney for licensee Mr. John Pica
# in support 2
Attorney for community None
# of protestants 1
# of inspectors/police officers 0
Result of hearing Approved
Vote tally Unanimous
Portions of state law cited in decision None
Other reasons given for decision

Chairman Neil showed the other two commissioners a copy of a 2013 law that explicitly gives the Board the authority to enforce MOUs for certain kinds of licenses under certain circumstances. Neil explained to those in the audience that State Senator Bill Ferguson had sent them this legislation after the previous hearing, in which the commissioners had told a community representative that the Board has no authority to enforce MOUs.

Commissioner Trotter said that he was inclined to grant the request. Commissioner Hafey agreed and said that it would be functionally the same thing to grant the live entertainment, subject to the use and occupancy permit and the conditions imposed by the BMZA. Commissioner Trotter told Ms. Masopust that it is the community’s responsibility to keep track of any violations of the law, because the agency’s inspectors are not there enforcing every day or checking every day. The community has to tell the Board if there are problems.

Issues raised in audit present in this case or other issues observed

The commissioners were incorrect when they said that “functionally” it is the same thing for the conditions of an MOU to be attached through a use and occupancy permit but not through the liquor license. This is exactly what Ms. Masopust was trying to explain to the new commissioners: her firsthand knowledge about how the agency actually functions. There have been many MOU agreements for other licensees whose provisions have been forgotten or lost because they were not listed or referenced on the license itself. Inspectors from different agencies do not generally enforce the rules and regulations of other agencies; it is difficult, given the 2013 audit, to imagine a Liquor Board inspector thoroughly enforcing Liquor Board regulations, much less the use and occupancy permit. The outcome of this case is to make it more difficult for community members to do what Commissioner Trotter tried to deputize them to do in this hearing: to keep track of violations of the law and report them to the Board.

III. Violations.

Licensees Bok Soon Kwon & Eun Ju Park
Business Name J.J.P., Inc.
Trading As World Wide Liquors
Address 5910 Pulaski Highway
Type of License Class “A” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Reason for hearing

Violation of Rule 4.18: Illegal Conduct- August 20, 2015- At approximately 11:55 pm, Inspector Karanikolis, Inspector Chrissomallis, and Agent Fosler visited the establishment to conduct a special investigation based on a 311 complaint alleging that a minor was selling alcohol. At this time, an Inspector entered the establishment and purchased an alcoholic beverage, a bottle of Heineken Beer, from an individual that appeared to be a young teen. After the purchase was consummated BLLC inspectors entered the establishment and were able to identify the individual who sold the beverage. After notifying the manager, BLLC inspectors confirmed that the individual who sold the alcoholic beverage was 14 years old. BLLC inspectors informed the owner, who was present and the father of the minor, that this was illegal and in violation of the Rules and Regulations of the BLLC.

Violation of Rule 4.08: Employee- August 20, 2015- At approximately 11:55 pm, Inspector Karanikolis, Inspector Chrissomallis, and Agent Fosler visited the establishment to conduct a special investigation based on a 311 complaint alleging that a minor was selling alcohol. At this time, an Inspector entered the establishment and purchased an alcoholic beverage, a bottle of Heineken Beer, from an individual that appeared to be a young teen. After the purchase was consummated BLLC inspectors entered the establishment and were able to identify the individual who sold the beverage. After notifying the manager, BLLC inspectors confirmed that the individual who sold the alcoholic beverage was 14 years old. BLLC inspectors informed the owner, who was present and the father of the minor, that this was illegal and in violation of the Rules and Regulations of the BLLC.

Hearing notes

Ms. Eun Ju Park, without an attorney, admitted the violations. Her children were raising money for their school tuition by selling snowballs in front of her store. Her son, who was 14 years old, happened to be inside the store, helping to clean, when the inspector came in and made a purchase. Since the boy’s parents were not around, he made the sale on their behalf.

Chairman Neil did not allow the inspectors to testify, because the licensees admitted the violations. However, the captions in the docket, drawn from the inspectors’ reports, appear to contradict the licensee’s explanation; the inspectors were called to that store because another person in the neighborhood had made a complaint through 311 that a minor was serving alcohol at the store. The licensee made it seem as though the boy’s parents had just stepped temporarily outside the store, but there was enough time for a neighbor to make a 311 call and for the inspectors to receive the complaint and drive to the store and be served alcohol by that same boy.

Zoning B-3-2
Neighborhood Armistead Gardens
Area demographics 32% White, 53% Black/African-American, 1% Asian; 11% Hispanic ethnicity; 35% households have children under age 18; median household income: $31,970; 16% households live below the poverty line
Does corp entity exist, in good standing? Yes; no.
Location of entity’s principal office Baltimore, MD
One applicant reside in Balt for 2 yrs? N/A
Pecuniary interest of Baltimore City resident N/A
Attorney for licensee None
# in support 2
Attorney for community None
# of protestants 0
# of inspectors/police officers 0
Result of hearing Responsible for the Rule 4.18 charge, but dismised the Rule 4.08 charge. $500 fine.
Vote tally Unanimous
Portions of state law cited in decision None
Other reasons given for decision

The commissioners chose to dismiss the Rule 4.08 violation charge, because both charges related to the same incident. The establishment has been open since 2004 and has not had prior violations. The commissioners told the licensee that the charge is a very serious offence.

Issues raised in audit present in this case or other issues observed None
Licensee Surinder Singh
Business Name MP & AP, Inc.
Trading As Joe’s Tavern & Pizzeria
Address 2700-11 Washington Boulevard
Type of License Class “BD7” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Reason for hearing

Violation of Rule 4.18: Illegal Conduct- July 10, 2015 -At approximately 11:45 pm, Inspector Karanikolis and Agent Fosler visited the establishment to conduct a special investigation based on community complaints. Upon arriving at the establishment Inspectors observed patrons from the establishment consuming alcoholic beverages in open containers in front of the establishment.

Violation of Rule 3.03(c): Employee Records- July 10,2015- At approximately 11:45 pm, Inspector Karanikolis and Agent Fosler visited the establishment to conduct a special investigation based on community complaints. While conducting their investigation, the inspectors asked for copies of the employee records of all personnel employed and working at the establishment The bartender/store manager could not provide inspectors with employee records as required by BLLC rules and regulations.

Violation of Rule 4.18: Illegal Conduct- July 18, 2015 -At approximately 11:55 pm, Inspector Karanikolis, Inspector Chrissomallis, and Agent Fosler visited the establishment to conduct a special investigation based on community complaints. Upon arriving at the establishment Inspectors observed patrons from the establishment consuming alcoholic beverages in open containers in front of the establishment.

Hearing notes

At the beginning of this hearing, Chairman Neil recused himself, explaining that he knows and has worked with Mr. Singh in the past.

Liquor Board Inspector Mark Fosler testified that, on July 10, at 11:30pm, he and Inspector Karanikolis had conducted an investigation of the bar, based on information they had received from community members about people loitering outside with open containers of alcohol. When they arrived, they saw a man exiting the establishment with an open can of Bud Ice in his hand. He then re-entered the establishment. When Fosler and Karanikolis questioned the patron, he said that he was regularly permitted to take open containers outside. The inspectors submitted some photographs of the man.

On July 18, the inspectors returned and saw lots of people walking in and out with open containers. Fosler did not talk to the licensee, but he did talk to the bartender about what the law requires.

Ms. Carol McCoy, president of Morrell Park Community Association, then testified that this bar has been a problem for the community. She noted that the property is often “trashed” and the owners do not act like good neighbors.

Kodenski, for his clients, admitted the 3.03(c) employee records charge but made a motion to dismiss the other two charges, arguing that nothing happened on the licensee’s premises that was illegal. Inspector Chrissomallis replied that he had seen a patron re-enter the business with an open container, which is illegal conduct. The commissioners denied Kodenski’s motion.

Regarding the employee records, Kodenski explained that they are locked in a safe, which the employees at the store at the time did not have access to. The records were locked in the safe, because they have sensitive identifying information in them, including Social Security numbers, dates of birth, etc. In mitigation of the other violations, Kodenski said that the licensee has a “tough time keeping control over the people.” He’s posted signs inside and out about not taking alcohol outside. One problem is the “no smoking rule,” according to Kodenski. People want to go outside and smoke, since they can’t smoke inside, but they can’t bring their drink with them. He added, while the commissioners were deliberating, that the Raven Stadium and Horseshoe Casino have the same issues.

Zoning B-3-2
Neighborhood Morrell Park
Area demographics 48% White, 36% Black, 4% 2 or more races; 10% Hispanic ethnicity; 40% households have children under age 18; median household income: $33,644; 22% households live below the poverty line
Does corp entity exist, in good standing? Yes; no.
Location of entity’s principal office Windsor Mill, MD
One applicant reside in Balt for 2 yrs? N/A
Pecuniary interest of Baltimore City resident N/A
Attorney for licensee Mr. Melvin Kodenski
# in support 2
Attorney for community None
# of protestants 1
# of inspectors/police officers 3
Result of hearing Responsible for all charges. $1,500 fine (total)
Vote tally 2-0 (Neil recused)
Portions of state law cited in decision None
Other reasons given for decision There were prior violations within the “three year window.”
Issues raised in audit present in this case or other issues observed

Under the prior administration, Deputy Executive Secretary Thomas Akras used to act during violation hearings as the Liquor Board’s “prosecutor,” helping the Board to prove the charge brought against the licensee. Akras organized the hearings, assembled evidence and submitted it in an organized fashion, made sure that necessary witnesses appeared and testified and cross-examined the licensees’ witnesses. The new administration has reassigned Akras so that his duties no longer include the prosecutor function, but they have given no reason why this was necessary. Since there is no attorney to organize the Liquor Board’s case, the inspectors have to do it themselves: organize their own testimony and submit their own photographs and other evidence. No one cross-examines the licensees’ witnesses, though the inspectors are cross-examined by the licensee’s attorney. The violation hearing system has reverted to being extremely weak on enforcement of violations of liquor law, without any explanation from the administration.

Licensee Myoung Ouk Kim
Business Name Kimsink Enterprises, Inc.
Trading As Club Paradise
Address 1300-02 Laurens Street
Type of License Class “BD7” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Reason for hearing

Violation of Rule 3.02: Cooperation- August 14, 2015- On August 10, 2015 at approximately 12:35 am, Police Officer Bauer of the Baltimore City Police Department responded to a shooting call at occurred near the establishment Upon arriving on the scene Officer Bauer was able to identify two shooting victims. According to the victims, they were shot by an unidentified male who approached one of the victims in front of the establishment Det Ambrose of the Baltimore City Police Department assumed control of the investigation and discovered that the establishment had cameras set up on the outside of their building which could have captured footage of the incident. Det Ambrose entered the establishment and requested to see the footage. On that date, Det Ambrose was allowed to see the footage – it showed the suspect walking southbound on the block and begin firing at one of the victims. On August, 14, 2015 Baltimore Police returned to the establishment to request a copy of the footage. Mr. Kim who is the owner of the establishment denied access to the camera system to the Police. In addition, he stated that the system could not have recovered any of the footage and that it had been broken for weeks.

Hearing notes

Attorney David Woo appeared on behalf of the licensee. Baltimore Police Detective Eric Green was present to testify to the charges. The Baltimore City police detectives who were directly involved with the case, Detectives Ambrose and Bauer, were not present. Mr. Woo asked that the Board dismiss the case, since he has no opportunity to cross-examine the officers who were directly involved. Chairman Neil dismissed the case.

Zoning B-3-2
Neighborhood Sandtown-Winchester
Area demographics 48% White, 36% Black, 4% 2 or more races; 10% Hispanic ethnicity; 40% households have children under age 18; median household income: $33,644; 22% households live below the poverty line
Does corp entity exist, in good standing? Yes; yes.
Location of entity’s principal office Clinton, MD
One applicant reside in Balt for 2 yrs? N/A
Pecuniary interest of Baltimore City resident N/A
Attorney for licensee Mr. David Woo
# in support 2
Attorney for community None
# of protestants 0
# of inspectors/police officers 1
Result of hearing Dismissed
Vote tally None taken
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 agency’s standard of proof for all of its cases is a “preponderance of the evidence” standard. In other words, if it is more likely than not that the licensee committed the violation, then the Board should find that he is responsible. This is, of course, very different from the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard of proof for criminal cases. In this case, a Baltimore City police officer had appeared before the Board and was ready to testify to his knowledge of what took place. Instead of dismissing the case, the Board should have heard all of the testimony available and decided whether it was sufficient to hold the licensee responsible for the charge, under the preponderance of the evidence standard. In addition, it is perplexing that the Chairman dismissed the case so quickly without even looking to his fellow commissioners to see what they thought. There is nothing in Article 2B that gives extra powers to the Chairman to decide issues without consulting the rest of the Board.

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