Booze News: Distilled in Room 215

A blog about the Baltimore City Liquor Board

What happened at the Liquor Board on December 10, 2015.

Written by Becky Witt

On December 10, 2015, the 1:00pm docket began at 1:05. Chairman Benjamin Neil, Commissioner Douglas Trotter and Commissioner Elizabeth Hafey presided over hearings.

Executive Secretary Michelle Bailey Hedgepeth announced at the beginning of the docket that two docket items had been administratively postponed: (1) 1502 Clipper Road, (2) 301 W. 29th Street.

Applicant Georgios Aligeorgas
Business Name Harbor East Venture, LLC
Trading As Trade name pending
Address 1010 Aliceanna Street
Type of License Class “BD-7” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Reason for hearing Request to change a Class “B” Beer, Wine & Liquor License to a Class “BD7” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Hearing notes

Mr. Abraham Hurdle represented Mr. Aligeorgas and Harbor East Venture. Hurdle explained to the commissioners that his client had changed his Class BD-7 license to a Class B license two years ago and would like to change it back to a B, adding live entertainment to the license. The business is currently an Asian restaurant and will remain so, with the layout unchanged. Executive Secretary Michelle Bailey-Hedgepeth said that the sign advertising the hearing did not contain a request for live entertainment, though the property does already have appropriate zoning for live entertainment and dancing. Hurdle described the area as being pretty commercial, with a parking garage above the restaurant.

Chairman Neil remarked that this hearing was about “simply a reclassification, actually. Not creating a new license.” He said, “it’s fine with me,” and the other two commissioners agreed.

Zoning B-2-4
Neighborhood Inner Harbor
Area demographics 80% White, 12% Black, 4% Asian. 3% Hispanic ethnicity. 11% households have children under age 18. Median household income: $78,578. 12% 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; yes.
Pecuniary interest of Baltimore City resident Unclear; see “issues observed.”
Attorney for licensee Mr. Abraham Hurdle
# in support 1
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 Art. 2B section 10-503
Other reasons given for decision None
Issues raised in audit present in this case or other issues observed

The commissioners cited Article 2B section 10-503 as justification for this “change of classification,” but that section refers to transfers of location or of ownership, neither of which was happening in this situation. There is no other authority for changing the classification of a license from one class to another. This action was outside of the authority of the BLLC. Worse, the commissioners made no attempt to explain their decision using state law.

In the notes included in the docket for this hearing, the staff report says, “This license was previously a BD7 and was changed to a B in November 2013. The applicant has requested to change the license back to a BD7. The state law does not formally address this issue and staff has referred this to the board for further review.” Maryland case law has consistently said that an “administrative agency, as a creature of statute, has only the power its enabling statute delegates to it.” Nowhere in Article 2B does state law say that the agency has the ability to “reclassify” licenses. A license’s classification is its most important, defining feature and there is nothing in 2B to suggest that it is fluid or under the control of the BLLC. There have been a couple of specific exceptions to this rule, but none of them applies to this situation. Even if there were an exception that applied, the commissioners should have cited it and explained how it applied to the situation before them.

Pecuniary Interest: Mr. Aligeorgias’s application does not contain a statement that he has a pecuniary interest in the business. On page three of the application, there is a section in which the applicant is supposed to list the authorized persons of the LLC and their financial interest in the business. Only one authorized person is listed, Pete Koroneos, who seems to be a licensee at a different location (6501 Eastern Avenue); however, Mr. Aligeorgias is not listed as an authorized person of the LLC, in violation of Article 2B section 9-101(c), which says: “the license shall be applied for by and be issued to 3 of the authorized persons of [the] limited liability company.” Subsection (5)(ii) of that section states that if there are fewer than 3 authorized persons in a particular LLC, “all authorized persons shall make the application as provided in this subsection.” This application is deficient in two ways: first, that Mr. Aligeorgias is not listed as an authorized person, and second, that Mr. Koroneos, who is listed as an authorized person of the LLC, is not a licensee applicant.

Applicant Anthony Ogbuokiri
Business Name UJU Investments, Inc.
Trading As N/A
Address 1213 Edmondson Avenue
Type of License Class D Beer, Wine and Liquor
Reason for hearing Stipulated Dismissal from Appeal of Denial of Reconsideration on 180 day Review hearing originally held on October 16, 2014.
Hearing notes

Mr. Melvin Kodenski represented the applicant. Kodenski told the Board that the transfer of ownership and location of a Class D license, formerly owned by the Marticks restaurant, had been approved in November 2013. His client was rehabbing a building that had been damaged by fire, and it took longer than he expected. According to the attorney, Mr. Ogbuokiri had spent $30,000 so far. A former administration had declared the license to be expired under Article 2B section 10-503 and 10-504, but Kodenski said that his client had not been properly notified to be at that hearing. Kodenski had appealed from that last hearing to the Circuit Court. He and the BLLC’s attorney had jointly agreed to dismiss the appeal if Mr. Ogbuokiri could get a reconsideration hearing. Mr. Kodenski referred to the disposition of the case a “remand,” but this was not an accurate description of the situation; a judge had never heard the case, and, in fact, Mr. Kodenski had never submitted a memorandum of law explaining his theory of why the decision should have been overturned. Instead, a private agreement between Kodenski and the BLLC’s attorney brought the case back to the BLLC.

The commissioners asked about the zoning for this project. Kodenski responded that his client would have to get the zoning approved. The building is zoned residential and had had a grandfathered nonconforming use as a tavern. Under Baltimore City zoning law, if a nonconforming use is abandoned for 12 consecutive months, the nonconforming use is lost. Neil said to his fellow commissioners that “whatever we would do, he would have 180 days to resolve zoning.”

Commissioner Hafey asked whether the applicant had had any discussions recently with the community, since the record contained some prior community objection to the transfer. Kodenski replied that his client has already been approved by the Board, not answering the question but suggesting that licensees don’t need to talk to any community representatives if they’ve been approved.

Commissioner Hafey noted that she didn’t like the fact that the licensee was beyond the statutory 180-day time period allowed for a transfer when the Board declared the license expired in October 2014. Kodenski argued that there is an open question of how to interpret Article 2B section 10-503: whether the provision is mandatory or discretionary. (See the “issues observed” section below.) Kodenski said that the Board has always interpreted this provision to be discretionary. Article 2B section 10-503(d) states, in its entirety: “A transfer of any license shall be completed not more than 180 days after the Board approves the transfer.”

Zoning B-1-2
Neighborhood Harlem Park
Area demographics 1% White, 96% Black, 0% Asian; 0% Hispanic ethnicity; 34% households have children under age 18; median household income: $23,974
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? Unclear
Pecuniary interest of Baltimore City resident Unclear
Attorney for licensee Mr. Melvin Kodenski
# in support 1
Attorney for community None
# of protestants 0
# of inspectors/police officers 0
Result of hearing 180-day extension approved
Vote tally Unanimous
Portions of state law cited in decision None
Other reasons given for decision

Commissioner Trotter said that, if the applicant received zoning approval from the BMZA for the tavern use of the residential building, he was okay with the request. Chairman Neil agreed. Trotter added that “this will be under the scrutiny of the zoning board and the community association,” which is the only reason he voted yes.

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

For a discussion of the three deaths and three resurrections of this license, please click to see the November 7, 2013 Booze News post about this license. The Board, under former Chairman Ward, declared the license expired on October 16, 2014. This was the license’s fourth statutory “death.” And then the Board under its new commissioners resurrected the license for the fourth time during the hearing above. The license is clearly expired under Article 2B section 10-503 and 10-504, and the Board acted far outside of its statutory authority in reviving it.

For an April 15, 2015 attorney general’s opinion that is directly on point, please click here. The Board of Liquor License Commissioners asked the Maryland Attorney General the following question (among others): “1. Does Article 2B, § 10-503(d)(4), which gives a person who has been granted leave to transfer a liquor license 180 days to “complete” the transfer, authorize the Board to extend that period by an additional 180 days, and, if not, may the Board infer that authority from other provisions in Article 2B?” The AG replies that the answer to the question is no; “[t]he Board does not have the authority to extend the 180-day deadline for transferring a liquor license[.]” Licensees’ attorneys sometimes argue that the Board has the discretion to choose not to follow state law; however, the opinion states quite clearly that “Section 10-503(d)(4) provides that “[a] transfer of any license shall be completed not more than 180 days after the Board approves the transfer.” The word “shall” is “ordinarily presumed to have a mandatory meaning.” … It may be read as directory only when that reading is consistent with ‘the intention of the Legislature as gathered from the nature of the subject matter and the purposes to be accomplished.'” The opinion concluded that all of the legislative history of the provision points to its being mandatory, not directory, as Mr. Kodenski argued. The bottom line is that the meaning of the law is clear, and its implication is that authorization for a transfer lapses after 180 days, a time period which cannot be extended by the Board.

Applicants Phyllis Wert, Kimberly Bangs & Deborah Bury
Business Name Nautical Wine Girls, LLC
Trading As Chesapeake Wine Company
Address 2400 Boston Street, Suite 112
Type of License Class “BD-7” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Reason for hearing Application to transfer ownership
Hearing notes

Mr. Stanley Fine and Mr. Justin Williams, of Rosenberg Martin Greenberg, represented the three applicants, all present, for a transfer of ownership at the same location for the Chesapeake Wine Company. The business will be a wine bar and liquor store that also serves food. Fine submitted a letter of support from the Canton Community Association. He told the commissioners that the company was founded in 1998 and has never been found responsible for a violation. They will card everyone who looks under 30 years old and will complete an alcohol safety training course.

Chairman Neil noted that the BLLC was sending out a letter that day to all licensees about underage drinking, which they take very seriously. Commissioner Trotter added that the neighborhood is “very young.” Fine agreed and said that he had advised his clients about underage drinking, noting that he had gotten carded a few nights before, at the Iron Rooster.

Zoning B-3-2
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? 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 0.1%
Attorney for licensee Mr. Stanley Fine and Mr. Justin Williams
# in support 3
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.
Applicants Matthew Pierce & Brittany Harlan
Business Name Harlan Incorporated
Trading As Clavel
Address 225-27 W. 23rd Street
Type of License Class “D” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Reason for hearing Transfer of ownership; request to add off-premise catering and add licensee
Hearing notes

Mr. Will Bauer represented the applicants as a consultant. He told the commissioners that Pierce and Harlan are adding catering as well as adding a licensee. They reached out to the local community organization(s) and did not receive any negative response.

Executive Secretary Michelle Bailey-Hedgepeth noted that there was no address provided in the application for the 25% owner of the business. Bauer replied that he could amend the application.

Zoning M-2-2
Neighborhood Remington
Area demographics 44% White, 35% Black, 3% 2 or more races, 13% Asian, 5% Hispanic ethnicity; 11% households have children under age 18; median household income: $30,130.79; 14% households live below the 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 75%
Attorney for licensee None
# in support 3
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

Completeness: Article 2B section 10-202(a)(4)(iii), part of the 2014 legislative reform bill, requires that the Board or its designee examine each application to ensure that it is complete. Only after the application is complete may the agency schedule a public hearing. If the applicant wishes to amend his/her application, s/he may do so up to 15 days before the hearing. If the applicant amends the application after that point, the hearing must be pushed back. In this particular case, the omission on the application is not particularly relevant to community interests, and no one objected to the omission at the hearing; however, the agency has consistently been failing to follow this completeness requirement ever since it was adopted into state law in 2014, and this is just one example out of many.

Article 2B section 9-101(c) states that three of the authorized persons of the LLC must apply to hold the license on behalf of the LLC. If the LLC has fewer than three authorized persons, “all authorized persons shall make the application.” In this case, there are three authorized persons listed on the application, but only two of them are listed as applicants, which is not in accordance with state law.

Violations

Licensees William Hotaling & James Trujillo
Business Name Second Chance Operating Ventures, LLC
Trading As Baltimore Sports Bar
Address 1400 Warner Street
Type of License Class “BD7” Beer, Wine & Liquor License·
Reason for hearing

Violation of Rule 4.01(a): Minors- October 9, 2015 -On October 8, 2015 at approximately 7:30pm Baltimore Police along with Inspector Chrissomallis of the BLLC conducted an investigation into a “college night” being held at the establishment. Inspector Chrissomallis received information that a bus was transporting college students from Towson University to the establishment on that evening. Inspector Chrissomallis identified the bus and tracked its movement from Baltimore County to the establishment. At approximately 11:40 pm Baltimore Police Officers entered the establishment in an undercover capacity and identified two individuals who they observed consuming alcoholic beverages who they believed were underage.This information was communicated to Inspector Chrissomallis, who entered the establishment on October 9, 2015 at approximately 12:30 am. Once inside the establishment, Inspector Chrissomallis identified himself to the two suspected individuals and discovered that they were indeed underage and had been served alcoholic beverages in the establishment. The night manager was advised of the violation.

Hearing notes

Mr. Peter Prevas represented the two licensees and told the commissioners that his clients did not admit the violation.

Baltimore Police Detective LC Greenhill testified that, on October 8, his unit was made aware of an advertised college night at the Baltimore Sports Bar which would go from 7:30pm-12:00am. For the event, which was planned by a private, unrelated promition company, a yellow school bus picked up Towson University students and brought them to the bar. Inspector John Chrissomallis saw the school bus depart in Towson and followed it to the bar. The bus stopped one time at a liquor store in Baltimore County and then proceeded to the Baltimore Sports Bar. The bus arrived at 11:40pm, dropping off the group of Towson students. Detective Akinwande, who was inside the bar, told Greenhill that underage patrons’ hands were being marked with Xs. Akinwande saw two individuals remove the Xs from their hands and purchased and drank alcoholic beverages. Akiwande cited two students, one male and one female, both 20 years old, for underage drinking, and spoke with the night manager about the incident.

Inspector John Chrissomallis adopted Greenhill’s testimony. He said that he approached the two individuals, who told him that they were 21. The male student said that he had his ID outside in his car, but that was a lie. Chrissomallis said that the individuals both told him that their friend bought the drinks for them.

Baltimore City Police Detective Akinwande testified third. He saw the two individuals, one male, one female, remove the marks from their hands and order and consume drinks from the bartender. Mr. Prevas became angry at this point that the police report, written by Greenhill, did not contain Akinwande’s testimony that he personally observed the individuals ordering and consuming alcohol. Akinwande said that he was standing about 10 feet away and that they each ordered and received multiple drinks. The young man in particular was “getting pretty slammed,” according to Akinwande. The officer saw the bartender mixing a drink from the liquor bottles behind the bar, but he wasn’t sure exactly what kind of mixed drink it was.

Greenhill added that the young man was a little intoxicated, but he was not slurring or having difficulty standing. Chrissomallis confirmed this.

Prevas then called the manager of the bar, who testified that the promoters had organized the event and that they were expecting around 30-40 people. They normally have 20 people on a weeknight. The manager said that he was very focused on preventing underage people from consuming alcohol, but he didn’t see the individuals wash their hands off.

The owner of the bar, James Trujillo, then testified that way more students came to the event than they had expected: they had expected 30-40, and 150 showed up. Trujillo said that he had liked the idea of the school bus, because the students would not have to drive themselves back to campus; he thought it was safer. Commissioner Trotter asked Trujillo whether he had tested the markers to see if they could wash off the marks ahead of time. The owner answered that he did not test the markers, and he failed to ensure that they were the right products to use. Trujillo praised the professionalism of the police and inspectors. Chairman Neil replied that he appreciated Trujillo’s comments, but he should have thought of this issue when a promoter approached him to bring college students to his bar.

In mitigation, Mr. Prevas noted that the two underage individuals both turned 21 within a few weeks of the incident. Hafey replied that it didn’t matter, and Neil said that those are just the two who were caught. Prevas said that his client will not have these types of events in the future.

Zoning M-2-3
Neighborhood Carroll-Camden Industrial Area
Area demographics BNIA did not have demographic information for this area.
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. Peter Prevas
# in support 2
Attorney for community None
# of protestants 0
# of inspectors/police officers 3
Result of hearing Responsible for violation. $1,000 fine.
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
Licensee Chrisovalantis Minadakis
Business Name Jimmy’s Seafood, Inc.
Trading As Jimmy’s Famous Seafood
Address 6526 Holabird Avenue
Type of License Class “B” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Reason for hearing

Violation of Rule 3.12: Public Welfare- October 9, 2015- At approximately 1:40 am, Baltimore City Police responded to the establishment for a cutting involving multiple victims. Upon arrival police were able to identify seven (7) victims that were involved in the stabbing. According to witnesses, there was a scuffle at the bar of the establishment involving the suspect, other patrons, and employees of the establishment. The suspect pulled out a knife and then began to punch and stab at least six (6) of the victims, who were apparently trying to diffuse the fight. The fight then moved outside the establishment onto the parking lot where the seventh victim was stabbed.

Hearing notes

Before the hearing began, Chairman Neil noted that he knows the licensee, because he went to school at Loyola Blakefield, where Neil’s children also went. Neil said that if anyone has an objection to Neil presiding over the hearing, they should speak up. Detective Abraham Gatto, who was not a witness for this case but was present because he was summonsed for a different hearing, objected “as a police officer and as a citizen.” Neil decided to recuse himself.

Baltimore Police Officer Michael Feehely testified that he responded to Jimmy’s Seafood on a report of a cutting. There were several victims who had been stabbed or assaulted. One had been punched in the face and had a bloody nose. Several had been stabbed and were in various conditions depending on the location of the wounds. There were seven victims in all. Feehely had to secure 30-40 people inside the building during the investigation, but he had no problem with the employees who were on duty. Several of the victims were employees of the bar.

Baltimore Police Officer Tiffany Vlard was also a responding officer. She did not enter the building but followed the medic to transport one of the victims to Bayview Hospital. She waited there for several hours and then interviewed the victim about the incident.

Mr. Kodenski called several witnesses to testify about what happened. The bartender testified that a man had come into the bar and had inappropriate touched a young woman. When she objected, a fight broke out between a different patron and the groper, who pulled out a knife and began stabbing people who tried to stop him from leaving. There was a large group of people in the area. The whole incident happened within a few minutes. The restaurant has been in that location since 1974. They have two bouncers, who pat people down for weapons if they feel it is necessary. A security guard, who was also stabbed in the incident, corroborated the bartender’s testimony.

The licensee, Mr. Minadakis, testified that the business has been in his family since 1974. Commissioner Trotter asked, “how has this affected your business?” Mindakis responded that it has definitely affected the business in a negative way, but things are improving.

Kodenski argued that the incident did not violate Rule 3.12, because public welfare wasn’t involved. All of the individuals who were stabbed were customers, and there was no disturbance to the neighborhood. He said that the situation was one of a “damsel in distress.” Kodenski said that, in the bar business, there are people called “bottlers” who grab a bottle and get into trouble when a fight starts. Ladies are famous for using their stiletto heels as weapons, said Kodenski. The person who stabbed the 7 people was a bad character who had just gotten out of jail. Kodenski produced the man’s record, which showed that he was convicted of a stabbing in 2003, shot and killed someone in 2005, had had a violent incident in jail, and had been released from jail in June. The incident happened less than four months later.

Zoning B-3-1
Neighborhood Broening Manor
Area demographics 44% White, 25% Black, 2% 2 or more races; 20% Hispanic ethnicity; 32% households have children under age 18; median household income: $30,864.31; 22% households live below the 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. Melvin Kodenski
# in support ~7-8
Attorney for community None
# of protestants 0
# of inspectors/police officers 2
Result of hearing Responsible for violation. $250 fine.
Vote tally 2-0 (Neil recused)
Portions of state law cited in decision None
Other reasons given for decision

Commissioner Trotter said that he believed the incident was a danger to the public safety, but that he didn’t think that the licensee could have really stopped it, so he wanted the fine to be minimal.

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

During the commissioners’ deliberation process, the licensee’s attorney was allowed to argue with and interrupt the commissioners.

Executive Secretary Michelle Bailey-Hedgepeth stated that the last violation at this establishment was in 2009, which was outside of the five year period that this administration has set as the time period where a licensee’s slate is wiped clean. This five-year period is within the Board’s discretion to create as a guide for setting fines for violations, but it is found nowhere in state law; however, the commissioners talk about this time period as if it were statutory.

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