D.C. alcohol inspector misused his office, report finds

April 13, 2012

A District alcoholic-beverage-control inspector misused his public office to get free liquor and a table for his friends at a downtown hot spot, the city’s Office of the Inspector General has concluded.

In November, a waitress at the nightclub Josephine claimed that Jermaine Matthews, a supervisory inspector for the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, received free bottles of vodka the same night she was attacked in an altercation with customers. Matthews was “comped 2 Ciroc bottles & 2 Ciroc peach bottles, at $320 each which would total $1,280” in the early morning hours of Thanksgiving, waitress Jermia Kelley wrote in a complaint with the ABRA.

At the time, Matthews said he was at the club in a “working capacity” and denied he received free liquor or that he drank alcohol.

The inspector general, how­ever, concluded in a report that Matthews used his city-issued cellphone to call the club’s owner to secure a table for his friends, probably knew his presence would result in comped bottles because of past practice and improperly used an official vehicle to make two visits to the club that night.

The inspector general also concluded that Matthews doctored a log to make it appear as if he was working when he was at the club for personal reasons. “The activity log states that he conducted a ‘walk through’ and ‘spoke to security’ outside” about 11:30 p.m., according to the report. The log also shows that he returned to the club around 1:55 a.m. for another call, the report said.

“The entries clearly are false, and his use of the District cell phone to request a reservation and the District vehicle to make two visits to the nightclub that evening constitute improper uses of District government property,” the report concludes.

The inspector general recommended “appropriate” disciplinary action for Matthews, who is on leave pending the outcome of the investigation. Matthews did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment, but he has denied any wrongdoing.

The report said the agency should train employees on standards of conduct and create a policy for its inspectors about their on- and off-duty conduct when they go to establishments.

The report did not make any recommendations about Josephine, although it noted that the club owner told investigators that he tries to accommodate government officials as a courtesy but “not because he is expecting anything in return.”

Makan Shirafkan, an attorney for the owners of Josephine, was not available for comment.

Kelley filed complaints with three city agencies, including the ABRA, alleging that she was injured in a fight with customers over a bill that evening. In the complaint, she questioned Matthews’s impartiality in investigating the incident.

Agency director Fred Moosally has also called for an investigation by the city Department of Human Resources, which has not been completed.

“ABRA appreciates the efforts taken by the Office of the Inspector General to complete a detailed and thorough investigation,” Moosally said in a statement Friday. ABRA . . . is in the process of reviewing the inspector general’s findings and making a determination regarding the appropriate action to be taken by the agency.”

Kelley’s attorney, Jimmy Bell, said he now wants the ABRA to take action against Josephine’s owners.

“This just shows that my client, Ms. Kelley, was truthful and forthright in everything she talked about,” Bell said. “The real question is who benefited from his behavior. Has the government adequately addressed that?”

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