Liquor Board inspector accused of consulting for Damian Bohager's newest club
So late last week a small brouhaha rightfully erupted at the liquor board meeting.
Pigtown residents brought to the board's attention that one of the agency's inspectors was consulting for a proposed bar, a no-no according to the city charter. The agency immediately began an investigation into the matter.
So far, as Investigative Voice has reported, the inspector, Don Fitzgerald, has been assigned to desk duty.
But speaking to chairman Stephan Fogleman recently, there's this update: Fitzgerald has decided to take a personal, unpaid leave for a week or two.
And Fogleman said the investigation should be wrapped up by the end of next week.
The problem started at a Pigtown community hearing for a proposed 5,000-square-foot club called Ambrosia that's partially owned by the controversial Damian Bohager, formerly of Fells Point's defunct Bohager's, and one of Maryland's top 50 tax scofflaws last year.
Bohager owed the state nearly $600,000 in unpaid taxes.
At that meeting, veteran inspector Fitzgerald said he was consulting for Ambrosia to help them navigate the tricky process of opening a new club, the residents said.
Residents then presented video of the meeting to the liquor board last Thursday, which began an internal investigation that resulted in Fitzgerald's assignment to desk duty the following day.
By Tuesday morning, Fogleman said, the inspector had decided to take time off on his own dime until the investigation was completed. Executive Secretary Samuel T. Daniels Jr. and chief inspector Ralph Gilliam are conducting the probe.
The board will have to wait on the conclusion of the investigation to vote on Fitzgerald's future, which could include dismissal or a suspension, or, as likely, a slap on the wrist.
Though the city charter forbids inspectors from working with bars that hold licenses, it's not legally clear if it applies to bars that haven't yet received them, like Ambrosia.
In any case, Fitzgerald has retained an attorney to represent him during the investigation, Fogleman said. Fitzgerald couldn't be reached for comment.
While the chairman declined to comment on the specifics on the case, or the discussions that have already taken place, he was equally vague about the investigation's possible outcome, just saying, "It's always disappointing when an accusation of impropriety happens."
The return of Bohager's?
Of course, the other interesting aspect of this story is the return of Bohager, who has been without a megabar of his own since his namesake bar, famous for its college nights and foam parties, closed in 2004.
Back when he quit, to make way for a pricey apartment complex, he told the Sun a megabar - Bohager's held about 1,250 people - wasn't in his future.
But Ambrosia - where he is one of three prospective owners - would occupy a massive chunk of real estate on the 700 block of Washington Boulevard in Pigtown. And its description sounds like vintage Bohager's: it would have a staff of 15, a full menu, live entertainment, and off-duty police for security.
Residents are concerned the neighborhood will be overwhelmed by its patrons and have been circulating e-mails protesting the club.
The latest came on Wednesday, when the Washington Village Development Association, in an e-mail forwarded by the neighbors' group Pigtown Public Safety, asked residents to write letters of opposition against an Ambrosia.
Sounds like Bohager hasn't lost the touch for controversy.
Photo: Damian Bohager outside Bohager's in 1998 (Baltimore Sun)