ABC inspector suspended in D.C. after allegation of free liquor

November 30, 2011

A D.C. alcoholic beverage control inspector was suspended this week after a waitress alleged that the inspector was given four free bottles of vodka at the upscale nightclub Josephine on the same night that the waitress was in a violent altercation with customers.

Jermia Kelley, 26, who has worked at Josephine since June 2008, said she was attacked in the early hours of Thanksgiving by four female patrons after a dispute over a credit card payment. Kelley also said Jermaine Matthews, a supervisory ABC investigator hired by the city in 2007, was served “at table 305,” a practice she described as commonplace for inspectors.

“He was comped 2 Ciroc bottles & 2 Ciroc peach bottles, at $320 each which would total $1280,” Kelley wrote in a complaint to the the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, the D.C. police and the D.C. inspector general’s office. “How could they investigate an incident at the club when they are always getting bottles and tables for free?”

Matthews was placed on administrative leave with pay Tuesday, pending the outcome of an investigation, said Cynthia W. Simms, a community resource officer for the alcoholic beverage agency. The agency also referred the matter to the Department of Human Resources and the inspector general, she said.

In an interview, Matthews denied that he received the bottles or that he was drinking. “I was in a working capacity,” said Matthews, who said he had visited the club twice. “Didn’t nobody comp me bottles because I wasn’t there drinking . . . . I could lose my job.”


Jermia Kelley works at Josephine and was injured in a dispute on Thanksgiving eve. (Mark Gail/THE WASHINGTON POST)

But Jimmy Bell, Kelley’s attorney, provided The Washington Post with a copy of an e-mail that appears to be from Josephine’s manager, Christina Tang, and that served as an overnight note for her supervisors. The e-mail discusses the dispute over the credit card and the subsequent fight, but it begins with a rundown of freebies and discounts at Josephine, which reopened last month after weeks of renovations.

“Jermaine Mathews (ABC) sat at 305, was comped 2 Ciroc & 2 Ciroc peach bottles,” the e-mail says. “No bottle tickets.”

Tang did not respond to a call or an e-mail seeking comment. Alain Kalantar, a co-owner of Josephine, said in an interview that he did not work that night but that he would look into Kelley’s allegations.

Kelley and Bell claimed the incident had brought to light a standard practice in the club industry: giving gifts to ABC inspectors. Bell said clubs give inspectors free service and drinks to gain favor and to avoid being cited for such problems as being over capacity.

Kelley said Matthews is not alone. “He has been the frequent flier as of late,” Kelley said of Mathews. “Sometimes they tip. Sometimes they don’t.”

A nightclub worker, who requested anonymity to speak freely about the situation, said giving inspectors free liquor is common practice at city nightspots. “It’s standard,” the worker said.

Bell said he wants the police to investigate Kelley’s incident and the alcoholic beverage agency to investigate its inspectors. “What are they doing about other people who are doing this at other clubs?” Bell asked.

Simms would not say whether her agency had been told that investigators were being given free alcohol at bars that they inspect, but she said a full investigation would be conducted. In an e-mail, she said the District government and the alcoholic beverage agency “have a longstanding policy against government employees accepting gifts, including free drinks, from a person that conducts operations or activities that are regulated by the District government.”

In her complaint, Kelley described a vicious four-on-one fight that began after she told a woman that she could not accept her credit card for payment. After managers and Kelley came up with a compromise, accepting a discounted cash payment, the woman tried to grab the credit card and a fight ensued, Kelley said.

“They started ripping my hair out. Got me on the floor. Everyone kicking had on high heels,” Kelley said in an interview.

In her complaint, Kelley said that one of the women who attacked her was an off-duty police officer, based on information from another officer, and that the other officer tried to dissuade her from pursuing charges. The customer with the credit card accused Kelley of stealing her purse, but Kelley said she was handed the purse by a security guard after the fight.

The e-mail apparently written by Tang supports Kelley’s assertions that the security guard gave her the purse and that police recommended that Kelley not file charges.

But Kelley said she filed assault charges against the woman. Kelley also said she had learned that the woman had filed assault and theft charges against her. “This is giving me a headache. The justice system is crooked,” Kelley said.

Efforts to reach the woman with the credit card were not successful.

Police spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump said the department is looking into Kelley’s allegations.

Josephine remains open. “At this time, no steps are being taken against the establishment,” Simms said.

The e-mail to Josephine supervisors ended with another pressing issue of the night: “Ran out of Patron silver in the gold room. “

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