Federal investigators yesterday obtained D.C. license records for The Godfather, a Northwest Washington bar, and subpoenaed a laywer for the bar's former owners as part of a probe into allegations of bribery and extortion by the head of the city's liquor licensing board and his top aide.
Sources said the investigators are looking into allegations that one or both of the city officials approached representatives of the newly built Hechinger Mall in Northeast Washington and told them that it would be difficult to get the necessary liquor and building licenses unless a person designated by the officials were given a license to operate a liquor store at the mall.
A former part owner of The Godfather, Tommy J. Motlagh, is the only person to apply for a liquor license at the mall, according to records at the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. Motlagh was not available for comment yesterday, and it could not be determined why federal investigators want the records.
ABC Board Chairman Robert C. Lewis and the board's staff director, James E. Boardley, were placed on involuntary administrative leave Tuesday after U.S. Attorney Charles F.C. Ruff notified Mayor Marion Barry that the two are targets of the probe.
Lewis, a member of the ABC board since 1979, holds cabinet rank as director of the city's Department of Licenses, Investigations and Inspections. He has declined to comment on the probe other than to say that he is innocent of the allegations. Boardley, an ABC staff member since the early 1970s, has been unavailable for comment.
The prosecutors had previously seized personal records of Lewis and Boardley and the files of more than a dozen liquor licenses dating back to 1976.
D.C. Councilman Jerry Moore (R-At Large) and the D.C. Republican Committee yesterday called on Barry to appoint a "bipartisan blue-ribbon panel" to investigate the licensing procedures of the ABC board and licensing department, saying the "suspicion must be removed." Barry said Wednesday he had not decided whether to conduct a separate city investigation. w
Benjamin C. Brown, a Rockville lawyer who represented Motlagh in the licensing of The Godfather, said that an FBI agent served him with a subpoena ordering him to appear next week before the federal grand jury conducting the probe and to turn over business records concerning The Godfather.
Brown said he has "no idea" why federal prosecutors are seeking the records.He said an agreement to sell The Godfather was reached last fall and that Motlagh is no longer connected with the bar, which is located at 4934 Wisconsin Ave. and features nude performing.
Brown said he will bring the records with him, but that he will not turn them over to the grand jury unless a court orders him to do so.
"Federal prosecutors . . .," Brown said, "just see hobgoblins everywhere."
He said the agreement for the sale of The Godfather was "clean and above board. There's not a single scintilla of illegality about [The Godfather sale] and everything was done publicly."
Motlagh, an Iranian national who has owned and worked in several bars in the D.C. area, owns half of the stock in 4934 Inc., which has owned The Godfather, according to Louis N. Nichols, an attorney who is president of 4934 Inc. Nichols also in the incorporating attorney for DZ Corp., the new owner of The Godfather. Nichols said papers finalizing the sale have not been formally completed or filed with the ABC Board.
Nichols also said yesterday that he filed Motlagh's Hechinger Mall application but has not yet decided wheter to continue to represent Motlagh. Nichols, a member of the ABC board in the early 1960s, said he is associated with "20 to 30" corporations, many of them holding liquor licenses in the District, but holds no financial interests in any of them.
Nichols said he has not been subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury.
For several years, neighborhood groups have criticized The Godfather because it has fostered late night noise and traffic congestion that spills over into adjacent residential streets. Citizens groups have repeatedly opposed renewals of the club's licenses.
In 1978, the ABC board, reacting to community criticisms of the bar's operation, refused to renew the Motlagh group's liquor license. However, the group appealed to the D.C. Court of Appeals, and, at the order of the court, the ABC board gave the bar a temporary license while the case was heard.
Last spring, the court sent the licensing renewal case back to the ABC board without ruling on its merits. The board announced it would make a new decision without holding further public hearings, but then reversed itself last fall and scheduled hearings. Brown, Matlagh's attorney, said that Motlagh decided to sell his interest in the bar rather than face continuing disputes over its operation.