Two federal juries yesterday heard a former top official of the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board say in taped conversations that he and another city official had devised a scheme to use their business licensing powers to profit from the leasing of a liquor store.
In a telephone conversation taped by Hechinger executive Daniel Russell, who was in charge of developing Hechinger Mall in Northeast Washington, one-time ABC staff director James E. Boardley said a license for a proposed liquor store in the mall could easily be obtained regardless of public protest, guaranteeing profits for Boardley, then-ABC chairman Robert C. Lewis and Russell alike
"That's no problem. That's no problem," said Boardley, responding to Russell's question about whether Boardley and Lewis could guarantee that a potentially lucrative liquor license for the store would be issued. "We control that on this end. If there is a public protest, the board will still issue the license."
Lewis and one-time staff director Boardley are being tried in U.S. District Court on charges they conspired last year to obtain a lease for a liquor store at the Hechinger Mall in exchange for shares in the store's future profits.
Tommy M. Motlagh, an Iranian tavern owner for whom Lewis and Boardley allegedly tried to obtain the lease, is charged with conspiracy and bribery in the alleged scheme. Separate juries have been empaneled in the two cases, and both juries heard the taped conversations yesterday.
Lewis, then director of the Department of Licenses, Investigations and Inspections, a city government cabinet-level post, could "swing the votes on the board," Boardley said.
Russell described numerous meetings and telephone conversations with the officials and Motlagh. After he had gone to federal authorities to recount his initial conversations with the city officials, he agreed to participate in an FBI investigation by posing as a potential partner in the liquor store.
In some of the tapes, Boardley discussed financial arrangements for the alleged scheme and advised Russell on what his bargaining posture with Motlagh should be in order to ensure maximum profits for himself.
In one conversation, Russell asks Boardley how much of a percentage of the business he should ask from Motlagh and how much money he should request "up front." Boardley responds that he and Lewis have agreed to collect 10 percent of the profits each from the store.
"The way we feel," Boardley says on the tape, "if 2 or 3 percent had been all we'd gotten, it'd still be worth it."
The juries listened to the tapes through yellow earphones while following transcripts of the conversations contained in thick blue binders.
Russell recounted his involvement with the defendants beginning in December 1980, describing an initial meeting with Lewis and Boardley at the Flagship restaurant, where the two city officials, he said, expressed their concern over who would be granted the lease for the liquor store and whether the Hechinger firm would allow more space for the store than had been proposed.
Russell said the officials suggested that a potential owner for the store with whom Hechinger's had been negotiated might be rejected by the ABC because he was not a member of a minority. They suggested Motlagh instead, Russell said, which he took as an implication that Motlagh was a minority businessman.
After meeting Motlagh, Russell said he argued with Boardley that Motlagh was not a minority. Russell said he was later "stunned" when Boardley called from vacation and said, "Lewis would work to ensure that we would experience no delays in getting building and occupancy permits" if Russell were cooperative.
Russell said Boardley later asked if Hechinger officials would object to Russell's owning a share in one of the businesses at the mall. In the tapes, Russell says, "I could lose my job," if his superiors discovered his involvement in the scheme.
"What kind of deal are we talking about? What's in it for me?" Russell said he asked Boardley.
"A lot of money," Boardley responded.
"If I deliver a lease, what assurances do I have that I'm going to get my piece?" Russell asks in one tape.
"We're pretty much in the same boat," says Boardley, who describes Motlagh as a long-time friend. "I basically see it as one of those things where we have to put as much trust in him Motlagh as we can."
When Russell asks what terms he should ask of Motlagh, Boardley says: "I would say maybe start with 5 percent, I would say as another person coming in. We were planning only partners and now we're talking about a fourth person and that's 40 percent . . . I think if you came off with five, he won't have any problems . . . I think the man understands. You say something unreasonable, he's not going to jump up and run away . . . He's going to be up front. That's where he's been with us."
Boardley says that profits from the store could double if Russell can lease 4,000, rather than 2,500, square feet of space, and suggests that the partnership with Russell, and his involvement with real estate, could lead to future deals.
"I was just talking to him Motlagh the other day," Boardley tells Russell on one tape. "In reference to you, you don't have any money, but you have an interest . . . He said maybe we can get a better deal out of it, now that you have an interest."
The trial resumes today.