A Prince George’s County liquor commissioner accused of accepting bribes resigned from his post Friday, and Gov. Larry Hogan called for the reform of Maryland’s system of regulating alcohol sales, which he called “antiquated” and “without oversight.”
Commissioner Anuj Sud was one of four people charged Thursday in a long-running federal corruption investigation. The others were two business owners and the administrator of the liquor board.
Sud, 39, is accused of taking money from a lawyer representing restaurants and liquor stores with business before the Prince George’s Board of License Commissioners.
In court filings, law enforcement authorities indicated that they expect to charge more people in connection with the case, including a former elected official and a state lawmaker, whose names have not been released.
Liquor board members are appointed by the governor. They wield significant regulatory power over about 600 business outlets in the county — authorizing alcohol sales, imposing fines for infractions and suspending or revoking licenses in response to serious violations.
In an interview Friday, Hogan (R) described the case involving the liquor board as a “real mess” and said he had accepted Sud’s resignation.
The governor said he is bound by tradition to appoint to liquor boards people who are nominated by state lawmakers and party officials from the specific counties. He also said the state government does not have the power to oversee the actions of liquor boards.
“Maybe that is something we can talk to the legislature about: How do we revamp the system? . . . It’s the last vestiges of the patronage system,” Hogan said. “We could have problems in other places, and this may be the tip of the iceberg, but certainly this is the worst case I’ve ever heard of.”
Maryland law requires governors to appoint local liquor board members from a list drawn up by party officials from the particular county. But it also allows the governor to reject those choices and demand new options.
In Sud’s case, state officials say, his appointment was not confirmed by the state Senate during the 2016 legislative session for reasons that remained unclear Friday.
A Hogan spokesman said the governor reappointed Sud, a College Park lawyer, to the board after the legislative session and after consulting with the office of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert).
Miller could not be reached Friday to comment on Sud’s resignation.
FBI investigators were monitoring the commissioner as he met with a lawyer representing liquor sellers in September 2015, according to the charging documents. Sud allegedly promised that he could “make s--- happen” on the county liquor board and asked how he could “start getting paid.”
The lawyer — who was cooperating with the FBI as an informant — offered to charge his clients an extra $1,000 that he would steer to Sud in exchange for favorable votes, the charging documents state.
In the months that followed, prosecutors say, illicit payments greased the wheels of routine liquor motions made by Sud, such as a restaurant’s request for a new liquor license and permission to sell alcohol on Sundays right before Christmas 2015.
According to minutes from that meeting, a representative for the restaurant promised that proceeds from some of those alcohol sales would help children through donations to St. Jude’s Hospital and soccer jerseys for local schools. Sud made a motion to grant the request, which was unanimously approved.
Two weeks later, Sud got into the lawyer’s car outside a restaurant, took $1,000 from the lawyer and put it into his left pocket, authorities say.
Almost a year later, charging documents and meeting minutes state, the lawyer greeted Sud at his office to thank him for helping a client with a drive-through sales application and offered a “wedding gift” — another $1,000.
Sud made a brief court appearance Thursday and was released until his next hearing.
In his legal practice, Sud has represented a company that federal and state agencies say violated the law by taking advantage of victims of lead-paint poisoning, many of whom are mentally impaired. The company made millions of dollars by persuading lead-poisoning victims to sell “structured settlements” from personal-injury suits for lump-sum payments worth a fraction of the settlements’ many incremental payments.
Sud’s resignation on Friday follows the December resignation of the liquor board chairman, Charles Caldwell, who was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving while leaving the grand opening of the MGM National Harbor casino.
David Son, who became the board’s chief inspector in 2015 after serving nearly a decade as a commissioner, was also arrested Thursday.
Authorities accuse him of facilitating three bribes to an elected official between 2012 and 2014 — while Son was a commissioner — and arranging bribes from a liquor store owner to that official and a state lawmaker in 2015 and 2016 for their work on legislation expanding alcohol sales.
Kenneth Miles, one of the three remaining Prince George’s liquor commissioners, welcomed Sud’s resignation and the governor’s call for changing oversight of liquor boards.
“They should monitor us,” said Miles, a former part-time liquor inspector and local Democratic Party official. “This should have never happened.”
But he disputed that local liquor regulation and politics were closely intertwined, saying he never hears from elected officials under normal circumstances.
Earl Howard, another commissioner, said the governor was overreacting by calling for an overhaul of liquor boards.
“You can get a bad apple in any barrel,” said Howard, who is the husband of Del. Carolyn Howard (D-Prince George’s).
“It can happen at the state level, it can happen at the county level, it can happen at the federal level.
“And it does happen.”
Arelis R. Hernández and Cheryl W. Thompson contributed to this report.