Documents in the Liquor Board file only deepen the mystery – and troubling nature – of the East Baltimore liquor license that was revoked in a public process in November, but then un-revoked behind closed doors.
So says lawyer-blogger Rebecca Lundberg Witt, who devoted a separate post on the case in order to describe all she found as she investigated how the license for Bill’s Cafe, 6701 Holabird Avenue, sprang back to life and is on today’s board agenda for a transfer.
On November 21, the panel voted 2-1 to revoke the license “as punishment for persistent and open drug trafficking inside the bar,” wrote Witt, who has chronicled the problems at Bill’s Cafe (as described before the board by multiple city police officers) in her Community Law Center watchdog blog, “Booze News.”
Asked by The Brew how the license they killed had come back before them, Chairman Stephan A. Fogleman said the board approved a reconsideration of the revocation on December 4 “in the back,” during a non-public meeting of the three-member panel.
Surprised that an action so major could take place out of the public eye, Witt looked in the file. Her full post has extensive detail and document links, but here are the highlights of what she found.
Handwritten Notation, Testimonials from Greektown
There’s a letter in the file, dated November 26, 2013, from licensee Nicolaos Trintis asking the board to reconsider because of health and family problems.
At the bottom is a handwritten notation: “Granted by the Board 12/5/13 DKP.” Those are the initials of the Liquor Board’s Acting Executive Secretary Douglas Paige.
There was nothing in the file to indicate whether this was the result of a vote or the reasons for reversal. Paige has not replied to her email asking him to discuss it, Witt told The Brew.
Also examined by Witt are letters in support of reconsideration from two community members. (She notes that the members are from Greektown, not from the Graceland Park neighborhood where the bar is located.)
One is from John Gavrilis, chief of police at the Maryland Transit Administration written on MTA’s Police Force letterhead. Gavrilis is also the CEO of the Greektown Community Development Corporation.
Trintis “has operated his business in an exemplary manner,” Gavrilis writes, arguing that the drug sales violations at the bar are not his fault. “All the resources of law enforcement converged upon this area of Dundalk and Holabird Avenue and they have been unsuccessful to stop the drug trade.”
The other letter vouching for Trintis was from Father Michael Pastrikos of the Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church. It recounts Trintis’ life history and says he “is regarded as one of the elite personalities in the State of Maryland.”
In an interview with The Brew, Fogleman mentioned these letters in explaining why the board acted to reconsider the revocation. He noted that the bar was closed and that the licensee “will not be the holder of a liquor license again.”
He also explained that “the licensee is facing some other difficulties, which I can’t speak to.” Asked if he was referring to the criminal charges pending against bar owner Trintis, Fogleman declined to elaborate.
As has been reported, Trintis was indicted in December on multiple counts of alleged sex abuse of a minor in an apartment above Bill’s Cafe three decades ago.
Maryland Meetings Act Violation?
Among the aspects of the case that trouble Witt are documents in the file indicating conflicting dates for the board’s action in un-revoking the license.
Paige’s notation on Trintis’ letter saying the reconsideration request was “granted” is dated December 5. Witt also found a January 14 letter from Paige to
Trintis saying that the revocation was reversed on December 6.
In speaking with The Brew, Fogleman had said it took place on December 4.
At the end of Witt’s post she highlights the main reason the incomplete record and conflicting record trouble her – the fact they are the only evidence of a “back-room consideration process” that does not exist in the Liquor Board’s Rules and Regulations.
“Transparency and accountability require that the Board make its decisions on the record in a public hearing,” she writes. “Holding private closed door meetings in which the Board reverses previous public decisions and provides no record of its reasoning or even its vote taken will only attract suspicion of undue influence.”
She goes on to argue that the non-public decisionmaking process may violate Maryland’s Open Meetings Act and undermines the Liquor Board reform legislation recently passed by the Maryland General Assembly.