Two top D.C. licensing officials were treated to an expense-free weekend at an Atlantic City hotel by a bar owner whom they allegedly had promised a liquor license in exchange for profits from a liquor store, according to evidence heard in federal court yesterday.
Robert C. Lewis, former chairman of the Alcoholic Beverage Control board, and ABC staff director James E. Boardley stayed at the resort city last year, courtesy of Iranian bar owner Tommy M. Motlagh, Motlagh's brother testified.
Jurors were shown copies of bar checks from the Resorts International Hotel-Casino that were signed by Lewis in Motlagh's name. Motlagh was regarded as a "preferred customer" at the casino's gambling tables and was granted free rooms, meals and beverages at the hotel, his brother testified.
Lewis and Boardley are charged with bribery and conspiracy for allegedly promising Motlagh a license for a liquor store in Hechinger Mall. Motlagh also is charged with bribery and conspiracy.
Yesterday another liquor store owner said Boardley pressured him to sell his liquor license to Motlagh shortly before it was due to expire last year.
An Iranian restaurateur testified Motlagh told him about the alleged partnership with Lewis and Boardley, then asked if he would harbor Motlagh because the two ABC officials had "goofed up" and he feared authorities "may be arresting him or something."
Yesterday concluded the first week in the trial of Lewis, Boardley and Motlagh in which two juries--the defendants are being tried separately--heard secretly taped conversations, as well as testimony by prosecution witnesses.
According to the evidence, Lewis and Boardley spent more than a year trying to obtain for Motlagh a lease for a liquor store at Hechinger Mall, while circumventing licensing procedures to guarantee that he would get a license to operate.
Defense attorneys, meanwhile, have contended that the two officials were lured into describing the alleged arrangement, that ABC regulations are open to interpretation and that the character of principal prosecution witnesses is questionable.
For the first time in the trial, one of the two juries hearing the case in U.S. District Court was excused so that the other could hear testimony about a meeting between Motlagh and restaurateur Nassar Zolfahari in Atlantic City.
Motlagh is being tried separately from Lewis and Boardley, but in the same courtroom. The unusual double-jury procedure has never been used before in the city, officials said.
Zolfahari, a longtime friend of Motlagh, said he recognized Lewis and Boardley as men with whom Motlagh had socialized before. In February last year, shortly after Lewis and Boardley allegedly spent the weekend in Atlantic City, Zolfahari said he met Motlagh there and found him to be "very nervous."
"He told me the story of the ABC guys," Zolfahari testified. "He told me, 'You will see it in the paper. These ABC guys, they goofed up.' They couldn't get the license or the permit, or something like that."
Under defense questioning, Zolfahari, owner of the Italian Gardens restaurant in College Park and the Paragon Too in the District, acknowledged that a woman he had been dating had left him to live with Motlagh. "Tommy, he stole her from me," he said.
He denied, however, vowing to the woman or Motlagh that he would "get even," or telling others that an automobile accident involving his family in Iran was "God's punishment for telling lies" about Motlagh.
The prosecution's case against the three men hinges on allegations that Lewis and Boardley used their offices to guarantee that Motlagh would get a license to operate a liquor store in Hechinger Mall.
Charles Sylvester Briggs, who last year had approached the ABC about changing the location of his liquor store, testified that he negotiated over several months to sell his license to Motlagh. The day the license was to expire, Briggs said, he told Boardley of Motlagh's interest, and Boardley said the ABC board "would kill the license" if Briggs pursued his transfer request.
"I would not have sold my license if he Boardley had not been so emphatic," Briggs said. Briggs sold Motlagh the license for $5,000 cash Feb. 2. Boardley accepted a license transfer application from Motlagh, even though he could not show he had a lease on a location, an ABC requirement, the court was told.
The next evening, according to the court record, Boardley told a Hechinger official in a secretly taped telephone conversation: "We can control the issuance of the license and all that. What we'll have to do, what we're gonna have to do, is delay a hearing on Motlagh's application until he can get a location."