A federal grand jury yesterday indicted the chairman of the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, his top aide and a local bar owner on charges that the two officials guaranteed the bar owner a license for a liquor store at the new Hechinger Mall in exchange for a secret financial interest in the business.
The indictment alleged that the board's chairman, Robert C. Lewis, and its staff director, James E. Boardley, were promised a 3- to 5-percent share of the store profits by its prospective owner, Tommy M. Motlagh. All three men were charged in the indictment with conspiracy and bribery.
As part of the alleged conspiracy, the grand jury charged that Lewis and Boardley said that they would also help a Hechinger's official obtain a financial interest in the store, which Motlagh said might total 3 percent, in order to persuade the official to approve a lease for the liquor store at the mall in Northeast Washington.
At the same time, the indictment alleged, Boardley and Lewis warned the Hechinger's official, Daniel Russell, that Hechinger's requests for building licenses at the mall could be delayed if Motlagh was denied the liquor store lease. Until his suspension last February, Lewis was the director of the Department of Licenses, Investigations and Inspections, the city department which issues building and occupancy permits.
Lewis, who supported Marion Barry during his successful 1978 mayoral campaign and then was appointed by the mayor to his cabinet, is the first Barry official to be accused of criminal misconduct.
A spokesman for the mayor's office yesterday said city officials had no comment on the charges since they had not yet seen the 17-page indictment.
When the allegations became known last February, both Lewis and Boardley were placed on administrative leave. They were later transferred to other city jobs after the U.S. Attorney's office notifed Barry that the two men were under investigation. Federal prosecutors, who learned of the alleged bribery from the Hechinger's official, subpoenaed more than a dozen ABC liquor license files and Lewis' personal records since he became board chairman in 1979.
Barry appointed Lewis to head the ABC board, which issues valuable liquor licenses, as part of a major shakeup of several city offices. Lewis, 43, demoted the two top staff members and promoted Boardley, 39, from staff investigator to staff director.
Motlagh has owned and worked in several bars in the D.C. area and now operates the Bastille, a bar and restaurant in College Park. A year ago, Motlagh reached an agreement to sell his interest in The Godfather, a basement bar on Upper Wisconsin Avenue NW that features nude go-go dancers.
The federal grand jury charged in the indictment that in exchange for help from Lewis and Boardley, Motlagh allegedly promised the two city officials a 3- to 5-percent secret interest in the liquor store profits.
Motlagh also told an FBI undercover agent, posing as a front man for Russell, that he was considering giving Russell a 3 percent interest in the store, according to the indictment. Russell was in charge of leasing space on Hechinger properties.
During a meeting last Jan. 22 with Russell and the undercover agent, Lewis said he and Boardley had a "general understanding" with Motlagh that they would share in the liquor store profits, the indictment alleged. Lewis allegedly told Russell and the agent that Motlagh would get a license from the ABC board to operate the store "no matter who protested . . . ," the indictment said.
According to the indictment, "Lewis stated that if the deal went down wrong, they all would be looking at jail . . . ."
The grand jury also alleged that as part of the conspiracy, Lewis, Boardley and Motlagh met with an official of the District of Columbia Development Corp. (DCDC), a quasi-city agency that renovates housing and makes loans to small businesses. The indictment charged that the three men sought financial assistance to help Motlagh establish the liquor store. In exchange for financial help, the indictment said, the three men allegedly discussed giving a "fee and a financial interest" in the liquor store to the official, Abraham Beaton, who was DCDC's deputy director at the time. Beaton is now DCDC's president.
According to the indictment, Lewis first contacted Hechinger's officials in mid-December 1979 and again in January 1980 to ask them to consider Motlagh's request for a liquor store lease at the mall, located at 17th Street and Benning Road NE. According to the indictment, Lewis contacted Hechinger officials at least four times up to July 1980, at which point a Hechinger's employe wrote to Motlagh, stating that he was under consideration for the liquor store lease, the indictment said.
In the meantime, Boardley informed another liquor store license holder that it was unlikely that the ABC board would approve renewal of his license, the grand jury said. That license was eventually purchased by Motlagh for $5,000, the indictment said.
In December 1980, a year after they allegedly started promoting Motlagh's efforts to get a liquor store at the mall, Lewis and Boardley met, at Lewis' request, with two Hechinger's employes, one of whom was Russell, the indictment said.
The grand jury alleged that Lewis and Boardley asked the Hechinger's employes to "give serious consideration" to Motlagh's liquor store license. A month later, in a telephone conversation, Boardley allegedly warned Russell about Lewis' control over building permits, and said he and Lewis could help Russell with various financial ventures, including an interest in the liquor store.
In another telephone call, Boardley told Russell that because of his and Lewis' official positions, they could protect their hidden interest in Motlagh's liquor store, the grand jury charged.
Boardley also later told Russell and the FBI undercover agent that he could eliminate any other competition for the single liquor store site at the mall by charging the other possible tenant with an ABC code violation, the indictment said.
The grand jury charged Lewis and Boardley with two counts of conspiracy and two counts of bribery. Motlagh was charged with two counts of conspiracy and one bribery charge. Conspiracy carries a penalty of five years in jail, a $10,000 fine or both. Bribery is punishable by 15 years in prison, a $20,000 fine or both.
Lewis' attorney declined to comment on the indictment. Lawyers for Boardley and Motlagh could not be reached.