The Prince George’s County liquor board, which officials promised to overhaul after a federal corruption investigation in 2017, did not properly vet or inspect licensees and failed to adequately respond to complaints, a state audit found.
The board, whose former director admitted that he facilitated thousands of dollars in payouts to elected officials in a wide-ranging bribery scandal, did not confirm that licensees had paid county taxes, document whether they had conducted required criminal background checks or inspect of all its licensees, the audit found. Of the 50 inspections that auditors reviewed, half were not properly completed.
Auditors examined the activities of the board in fiscal 2017, plus a few additional months.
“The finding provided essential insight into the operating deficiencies of the agency,” Terence Sheppard, the liquor board’s director, wrote in a letter responding to the audit.
He said the board is committed to “addressing all aspects of the audit” and has developed an action plan to improve accountability and transparency. That plan addresses each concern listed in the audit, which Sheppard wrote he anticipates will be corrected by Aug. 1.
The liquor board, which had $2.3 million in revenue in fiscal 2017, is responsible for approving and processing alcoholic beverage licenses. That year, the board granted 732 alcoholic beverage licenses and 12 entertainment permits.
The audit, conducted by the General Assembly’s Office of Legislative Audits, was the first in a series of reviews that will be conducted every three years. It covered four areas: licensing, inspections, disciplinary procedures and management oversight.
Of 73 applications that auditors reviewed, all lacked documentation that should have been required before approval, including proof of residency for the business owner and security plans for the business.
Complaints about licensees that were directed to the board and the county’s 311 system were not always investigated, and the board had no written policies or procedures specifying how to do so.
From fiscal 2015 though fiscal 2017, there were 53 complaints reported directly to the board. As of July 2018, 17 remained unresolved, the audit found.
Routine inspections were not assigned in 2017 for 102 of the 618 licensed businesses, and inspection reports were sometimes incomplete or had errors, the audit found.
Instead of asking licensees to attend public disciplinary hearings, staff would allow licensees to avoid hearings in exchange for an admission of guilt and payment of a fine, sometimes at a reduced rate. That violated a 2015 opinion by the Maryland attorney general that said the board did not have the statutory authority to delegate to staff decisions about whether to fine offenders and in what amount.
The audit found that in 10 of the 20 cases it reviewed where there had been inspection violations, licensees accepted a compromise offer from staff.
The audit also found that written policies and procedures were not comprehensive and had not been formally adopted by the board.
County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) reappointed two board members and appointed three new members to the five-member board, all of whom were confirmed this week by the Prince George’s Senate delegation.
John Erzen, Alsobrooks’s spokesman, said her administration is “very confident in the members we appointed and that any issues that surrounded this board in the past will not continue.”
“There will be schedules and procedures and policies that will ensure the board is efficient and effective,” he said. “We want to make sure we are having accountability across our boards.”
Alsobrooks, who took office last year, reappointed Armando Camacho and Kenneth Miles. She appointed three new members: Daphne Turpin Forbes, Tammie Norman and Tammy Sparkman.
Turpin Forbes, a senior attorney at Microsoft, will chair the board.
Former county executive Rushern L. Baker III led an overhaul of the board in his second term, shifting the responsibility of appointing the panel from the governor to the county executive. That move followed the conclusion of the long-running federal probe, which resulted in two state lawmakers pleading guilty to bribery.
Former Maryland state delegate Michael L. Vaughn (D) was sentenced to 48 months in federal prison last year after he was convicted of accepting cash in exchange for votes that would expand liquor sales in Prince George’s.
Former state delegate and county council member William Campos (D) was sentenced to 4½ years in prison for accepting bribes and kickbacks in exchange for official favors, including legislation relating to liquor.
David Son, the former director of the liquor board, was sentenced to five years for bribery, conspiracy and obstruction of justice. Former board member Anuj Sud was sentenced to two years in prison after pleading guilty to accepting cash for votes.
Via Washington Post