The former chairman of the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control board declared in a secretly taped conversation that he could use his city cabinet-level powers not only to guarantee a liquor license for a store in which he allegedly would have a hidden interest, but to monitor the store's books and force the owner to close if he failed to pay off.
Jurors in U.S. court heard the tape yesterday in the bribery and conspiracy trial of former ABC chairman Robert C. Lewis and his top aide, James E. Boardley, accused of offering to grant a liquor license to Tommy M. Motlagh for a store in Hechinger Mall in exchange for a share of its profits. Motlagh also is charged with bribery and conspiracy.
In the conversation, taped surreptitiously by an undercover FBI agent at Lewis' Northwest Washington home, Lewis said he could guarantee the store's license regardless of community opposition. He said he expected at least a 3 percent interest in the store, but cautioned: "If this thing goes down wrong, we looking at jail, you know."
Asked by another participant in the alleged scheme how Lewis could be sure he would not be cheated, Lewis said he could have personnel in the city's Finance and Revenue department monitor the store's sales. Asked what control he would be able to exercise over the store's manager, he said: "We can close his a-- down."
According to prosecution witnesses, the tape, more than an hour and a half long, is of a meeting Feb. 23, 1981, between Lewis, Boardley, Hechinger executive and principal prosecution witness Daniel Russell and an FBI agent posing as Russell's friend and front-man in the alleged deal.
Frequently punctuated by laughter, and introduced by Lewis conducting a tour of his indoor swimming pool, the tape captures the city officials explaining the ease with which they could circumvent city laws and grant a liquor license for their own profit.
"Jim Boardley told me that no matter what level of opposition comes from the community that you can guarante he Motlagh will get the license," Russell asks Lewis at one point in the tape.
Lewis: "No question."
Lewis: "I have two titles. I'm the chairman of the Liquor Board and I'm director of the licenses and investigations and inspections."
Russell: "I mean, you give me a 100 percent guarantee I ain't got to sweat this."
Lewis: "You ain't got to sweat this."
Russell has testified that he was approached by Lewis and Boardley about giving Motlagh the lease, then went to federal authorities and agreed to cooperate in an FBI investigation.
He has testified that he believes the two officials had threatened him with delays in issuing building and occupancy permits at the mall if he did not cooperate with their plans for Motlagh.
After agreeing to grant Motlagh a lease at the mall, Russell began, according to tapes of previous telephone conversations admitted into evidence, to express concerns about many details, including how the profits would be shared, how to hide his own interest and how the alleged deal would be consummated with Motlagh.
His front man was to be "Wade McKeever," a brick mason from Florida -- the identity assumed by the undercover FBI agent.
At the meeting at Lewis' house, Russell asked Lewis and Boardley about Motlagh. According to the tape played for the jurors in court, the conversation went like this:
"I'm depending on you to make sure Tommy don't ---- me," Russell says. "And I'm depending on Wade to make sure that Tommy don't ---- me."
Lewis: "Sure . . . We have not come to any arrangement with him. I mean we have a general understanding that, uh, we would get something out of it . . . We're looking at . . . somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 to 5 percent of . . . the net profits . . . If we, if this thing goes down, then we all three of us will be looking at something in that neighborhood."
Russell asks in the taped conversation how Lewis and Boardley will be able to guarantee that the group is receiving from Motlagh the share of profits they agree to.
Lewis: "I can have D.C. Department of Finance and Revenue people in there."
Boardley: "The auditors that audit liquor and tobacco for Finance and Revenue."
Boardley: "Will come under me (laughs)."
Lewis: "Every time that store buys merchandise from a wholesaler, the wholesaler has to send us a copy of the invoice . . . We can close his a-- down."
Boardley: "We can close it down . . . And ours would be a situation too where if he ever said anything, we, we want to be able to say no, we don't own anything."
Russell, who has already expressed concern about a possible protest to the liquor store idea from the community, asks again on the tape how the officials would respond to it.
Russell: "I mean, you got some powerful stuff in that Northeast community, buddy. I've already butted heads with them."
Lewis: "It don't make no difference. I don't care what you got out there. I mean, you got a major shopping center, and we can justify a liquor license . . . I mean, I don't care what kind of opposition they throw up. The man is gonna get a license."
One of the earlier problems Russell had expressed in previous taped phone conversations presented in the case was the fact that Hechinger's had been negotiating with Leon Friedman, owner of a liquor store in Southeast Washington, for the mall site.
Russell testified he had told Boardley he felt the firm had a "moral commitment" to Friedman.
What, he asked Lewis and Boardley on the tape, could they do about that?
Lewis: "Why don't we do this, Jim? Why don't we send some, uh, some investigators out there and find a violation and cite them . . . And you can't transfer a license because it's in violation. Why don't we do that?"
Lewis adds that the license could not be transferred until a hearing is heard on the alleged violations, and added: "I can schedule it for next year."
Lewis, Boardley and Motlagh have all pleaded not guilty to the charges. The trial continues today.