ABC Board: D.C. Liquor Cops Not for Sale
One hearing this week about a liquor-license violation could have been routine. The Dupont Circle restaurant One Lounge, which often caters to a well-heeled international crowd, hired a D.J. on New Year's Eve. A surprise inspection by an Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration investigator that evening discovered that the DJ shouldn't have been there. The high-end 20th Street NW lounge needed an entertainment license to spin tunes.
At a Wednesday ABRA hearing, the restaurant said it was willing to take its lumps. The establishment had worked out a deal with city lawyers: One would pay a $2,500 fine and face a five-day license suspension for breaking the rules. Though the ABC board usually goes along with such compromises (which are similar to plea deals), this time, it didn't. That might be because the investigator involved in the incident claims he was offered a bribe and then intimidated.
In a report, investigator Craig Stewart says that after discovering the DJ at the lounge that December night, he wanted to confer with the restaurant's owner. The inspector eventually encountered co-owner Filipp Zeldin. According to Stewart's account, when Zeldin found out what the trouble was about, he put his hand under the investigator's arm and "guided" him to the kitchen. A member of the lounge's security team followed with his hand on Stewart's shoulder. In the kitchen, Zeldin, who's originally from Saint Petersburg, Russia, began shooting the breeze with Stewart. "How could we take care of this?" Stewart says Zeldin asked him. The liquor cop told Zeldin he needed to contact ABRA to clear things up. Then, Stewart writes, Zeldin allegedly got close, putting his arm around Stewart's shoulder. "How could you and me take care of this?" Zeldin supposedly whispered.
After Stewart again insisted that Zeldin would have to clear things up through official channels, Zeldin got livid, Stewart says. "Who the fuck do you think you are?" Stewart recalls him yelling. When Stewart tried to exit, Zeldin's security guy blocked his way. Stewart wasn't sure they were going to let him leave, he told ABC board members at a January fact-finding hearing. So he called the cops on his cell.
One Lounge co-owner W. Seth McClelland says his business wasn't told why the board decided not to accept the deal. Asked whether he thinks it might be because of Stewart's story, he only says that "he can't fault the board for being protective of its investigators." ABRA hasn't responded to a request for comment.
"I'm really ashamed and sorry for what happened that night. I was so drunk I don't remember anything," Zeldin told the board at the January hearing. "And after this I realized that I have a problem with alcohol, so I went to AA meetings. I want to have the opportunity to apologize to Mr. Stewart from that night. I'm really sorry for what happened. I hope you can accept the apology."
But the board wasn't impressed by the mea culpa. As a matter of fact, then-board member Mital Gandhi went off on Zeldin: "I mean, I just still can't get my hands around this. Like, how do you think you can bribe one of our investigators, put your hands on him? Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me? Do not put your hands on any of our investigators. Do you understand that?" Zeldin said he did.
McClelland suggests things have been blown out of proportion, and that Zeldin wasn't really applying mafia-style techniques that night. "His English wasn't perfect, and I think it was a misunderstanding at 3:30 in the morning," says McClelland. "We as a business have the utmost respect for ABRA and their inspectors."
The "misunderstanding" means the board will have another hearing on June 29, in which the specifics of the case will be fleshed out in what will resemble a criminal-court proceeding.
Photo by AMagill, Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0