Correction to This Article
Earlier versions of this story incorrectly reported the amount of a civil judgment against one of the defendants, Amrik Melhi. The judgment was $900,000, not $90,000. In addition, the story said the judgment was in Prince George's. It was in Baltimore County.

Prosecutor: Langley Park liquor store owners bribed Pr. George's officials, hid cash

Prince George's County Executive-elect Rushern L. Baker III held a news conference at the county's school board headquarters in Upper Marlboro, three days after the arrest of County Executive Jack Johnson.
By Ruben Castaneda
Wednesday, November 17, 2010; 12:59 AM

The owners of a Langley Park liquor store who were swept up as part of a broad corruption probe paid bribes to Prince George's County officials and hid $400,000 in cash in their closet, federal prosecutors said in court Tuesday.

FBI wiretaps captured conversations between Amrik S. Melhi and public officials about bribes Melhi paid in exchange for official acts, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Copperthite said during a detention hearing for Melhi.

Copperthite and another federal prosecutor said in separate court hearings that Melhi, 51, and his wife, Ravinder K. Melhi, 49, also talked to each other about paying off county officials.

Prosecutors did not specify who allegedly received the bribes or what the officials did in exchange for the payoffs. But the revelations in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt show the broadening scope of the federal corruption investigation in Prince George's.

They also shed light on how Monday's arrests of the Melhis, who own Tick Tock Liquors and Restaurant, and seven others, including three county police officers, fit into the larger probe.

The investigation became public Friday when County Executive Jack B. Johnson and his wife, Leslie Johnson, were arrested on charges of evidence tampering and destruction of evidence.

At the direction of her husband, Leslie Johnson allegedly flushed a $100,000 check from an unnamed developer down a toilet in their Mitchellville home and tried to hide $79,600 in cash in her bra as FBI agents armed with a search warrant knocked at the door.

Nine more people, including the Melhis, were arrested Monday, and federal authorities have said more arrests are coming.

Two of the police officers arrested - Sgt. Richard Delabrer, 45, of Laurel and Cpl. Chong Chin Kim, 42, of Beltsville - are charged with providing protection for the Melhis in the transportation and distribution of untaxed alcohol and cigarettes. Delabrer and Kim are accused of bringing the contraband from southern Virginia to the Tick Tock and other locations.

During Amrik Melhi's detention hearing, Copperthite said federal agents were investigating the protection scheme, using wiretaps, when they learned about the bribes.

The Tick Tock, located in a hardscrabble neighborhood, has been the center of controversy in recent years.

In 2007, Johnson cracked down on nightclubs, citing an increase in crime and unruly behavior. Club owners, including Melhi, negotiated with the county and agreed to increase security.

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