Club’s attorney says free liquor went to D.C. inspector’s friends

December 1, 2011

An attorney for the Josephine nightclub said Thursday that the nightspot gave free liquor to friends of a D.C. alcoholic beverage control inspector as a “customer service” gesture and not as a “quid pro quo” to gain the favor of the city official.

This week, Jermaine Matthews, a supervisory investigator for the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, was suspended with pay pending the outcome of a probe into a waitress’s allegations that he was given four bottles of vodka on the night that she was injured in an altercation with customers.

Makan Shirafkan, the downtown club’s attorney, said a group of Matthews’s friends were at a table and received free drinks after others were spilled. “It was more of customer service . . . than anything else,” Shirafkan said. “It’s never been a quid pro quo thing.”

Josephine’s owners are cooperating with investigations launched by the alcoholic beverage agency, the the inspector general’s office and the D.C. police, he said.

The waitress, Jermia Kelley, filed complaints with the three agencies after a fight at the nightclub that left her on crutches. Kelley said she was beaten by four female customers after a dispute over a credit card payment.


Josephine nightclub, which a waitress has accused of giving a D.C. alcohol inspector $1,280 in free liquor. (Astrid Riecken)

Kelley pursued assault charges, and she has been charged with assault and the theft of a customer’s purse that she says a club staff member handed her during the scuffle.

In her complaint, Kelley questioned the impartiality of Matthews and other inspectors who allegedly receive free alcohol, a practice that she, another nightclub employee and a former inspector interviewed by The Washington Post describe as commonplace.

“He was comped 2 Ciroc bottles & 2 Ciroc peach bottles, at $320 each which would total $1280. How could they investigate an incident at the club when they are always getting bottles and tables for free?” Kelley wrote in her complaint.

Jimmy Bell, Kelley’s attorney, provided The Post with an e-mail, apparently written by manager Christina Tang, that says Matthews was given the bottles.

Shirafkan said the reference was to Matthews’s friends. He said Tang said Matthews had been “comped” because she recognized him. Shirafkan later explained that Tang’s e-mail was based on information she received from the waitresses she supervises, including Kelley.

Shirafkan also said it was the owners’ understanding that Matthews was off duty when he went to Josephine a second time that night and sat with his friends.

Matthews has told The Post he was at the nightclub twice that night, but in a “working capacity.” He denied that he was given free drinks and said he did not drink alcohol.

Kelley said Matthews’s visit last week was not an anomaly, and she described him as a “frequent flier” at Josephine.

“We can’t wait for individuals to make their statements under oath,” Bell said, “because we have text messages. . . . When people are placed under oath, they’ll tell the truth.”

Bell provided The Post with text messages that he said were sent between Kelley and Tang in July. In one of the text messages, Kelley apparently wrote: “Liquor bord dude wants goose instead of belv,” allegedly referring to Matthews and a preference for Grey Goose vodka over Belvedere vodka.

Tang apparently responded: “Sure. np,” meaning no problem.

Shirafkan said he would look into the text message conversation.

Kelley’s complaint has put the spotlight on the alcoholic beverage board, whose inspectors have been accused before of accepting free alcohol.

ABC inspector Felicia Martin filed suit against the city in June concerning a denial of promotion. In the lawsuit, Martin said she gave the inspector general’s office testimony “regarding unlawful and/or unethical activities of [the alcoholic beverage agency] and its employees, including with respect to, corruption, fraud, waste and abuse, employees consuming alcoholic beverages on the job, inside influence, cronyism, abuse of authority and discriminatory treatment of licensees.”

George Rose, Martin’s attorney, did not return a call seeking comment.

Cynthia Simms, the alcoholic beverage agency’s community resource officer, declined to comment on the specifics of the allegations because of the pending litigation. But she said the agency “does not condone misconduct of any kind or conflicts of interest on the part of its employees.”

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