The Prince George's County liquor board yesterday placed inspector Fred J. Nocente on indefinite leave following disclosures that Nocente received $4,000 from an owner of a county pizza parlor that was licensed and regulated by the liquor board.
The board also asked State's Attorney Arthur A. Marshall Jr. and the county ethics board to investigate the $4,000 transaction and Nocente's relationship with the pizza parlor, Little Italy in Marlow Heights, according to Robert S. Miller, chairman of the county liquor board.
"I told him Nocente the allegation had been made and we don't feel it's proper for him to work as an inspector until such time as he exonerates himself," Miller said, adding that Nocente will continue to receive his $21,000-a-year salary.
Nocente, one of eight patronage-appointed, full-time liquor inspectors in Prince George's, could not be reached for comment yesterday. He has said that his receipt of the money and his dealings with the Little Italy partner were proper.
The Washington Post reported on Sunday that in November 1978 Nocente received and then cashed a $4,000 check from a partner in Little Italy. The partner, Andrew A. Chiacchieri, confirmed that he wrote the check and said the payment was made at Nocente's request during a time when the inspector was helping Little Italy obtain a second license for another location.
Chiacchieri said that Nocente had first asked for the money as a loan to help pay the medical expenses of a relative. However, Chiacchieri recalled, when he indicated an unwillingness to make the loan, Nocente then said Little Italy would have to pay him a finder's fee anyway for his help in obtaining the second liquor license.
Chiacchieri said he then gave Nocente the $4,000 check, concluding that such transactions were "the way business was done in the county."
Nocente said last week the money "had nothing to do with the liquor business or Little Italy." He said the check was repayment for cash he invested in an unsuccessful real estate venture he had planned with Chiacchieri. Nocente did not produce any documentation of a real estate deal.
Two other Little Italy partners who were familiar with the transaction but not directly involved with it have said they knew Chiacchieri had given Nocente a personal check after the inspector asked for a loan. The check had nothing to do with a real estate deal refund, according to the two partners, Joseph Chiacchieri and John P. Kelly.
A bank copy of the check, dated Nov. 13, 1978, was recently obtained by The Washington Post.
Marshall could not be reached for comment yesterday. His office is currently investigating another instance involving the actions of a member of the Prince George's liquor board, Gerard F. Holcomb, one of its three commissioners.
The Post reported last month that Holcomb acted as a business adviser to Little Italy for more than two years, arranging loans and receiving cash payments from the pizza parlor. Holcomb has said that his involvement with Little Italy was a proper business relationship and the money he received was repayment for expenses he incurred while helping the business expand elsewhere.
Maryland and Prince George's conflict-of-interest laws prohibit government employes from engaging in business dealings or receiving loans or gifts from a person or firm that the employes help regulate. This week the state ethics commission tentatively decided that liquor boards, which are established by state law but funded through county government, should fall under county conflict-of-interest laws.
Miller said that under board policy inspectors are prohibited from having any business relationship with a license holder, including investing in a real estate deal outside the county. "It might place you in a compromising situation in dealing with" license holders, Miller said.
Nocente has said that it was not improper for him to become involved with Chiacchieri because at the time he was planning to resign from the liquor board if the real estate deal had been successful.
Miller said it is also against board policy for relatives of liquor board employes to work in liquor-licensed establishments. Nocente said that two of his children worked at Little Italy.
Nocente, 51, served as chief liquor inspector from 1976 until he was demoted in 1978, several months before he received the check. As chief inspector, the job he held when he met the Little Italy partners in 1977, Nocente supervised the board's 20 full- and part-time inspectors, one of the few remaining patronage jobs left in the Democratic-controlled county.
At the time Nocente received the $4,000 check he had just lost his house in a bank foreclosure and had accumulated more than $200,000 in debts, according to records he submitted when filing for bankruptcy in 1980.