FBI Investigates Liquor Board Bribery Scheme

LARGO, Md. (CN) – Just weeks after the commissioner of the Prince George’s County liquor board resigned in the midst of a drunk driving scandal, the FBI announced it will launch a bribery investigation against the board.

U.S. Attorney for Maryland Rod Rosenstein said on Thursday that two board members would face bribery charges based on evidence found in a raid of the liquor board’s headquarters in Largo.

Board director David Son and board commissioner Anuj Sud have already been charged, and two unnamed officials will also face charges.

The anonymous officials are described as a former elected official and a state delegate, respectively. The delegate is also a member of the state’s House Economic Matters Committee.

A third lawmaker caught up in the scandal has accepted a plea deal.

According to an FBI affidavit filed Tuesday, an undercover investigation of the board’s activities began in 2012. Based on the reports of several informants, the agency claims that Son offered upwards of $3,000 in bribes to persuade elected officials to greenlight Sunday liquor sales permits to 100 vendors.

Damning undercover recordings reveal Son giving an agent directions on how greasing the wheels works in Prince George’s County, “hypothetically.”

“Here’s what I want you to do,” Son told the agent. “Hypothetically, right. You understand, they all understand this is a business deal. If I were you I would get a little envelope going…” the former director explained, alluding to a payoff.

Son then encouraged the informant to give the money to another individual he thought was friendly. Instead, that information went directly to one of the FBI’s covert agents.

Similar situations unfolded regularly, according to law enforcement. In February 2015, authorities say that Son told an informant that he “wanted a bill pending in the Maryland House of Delegates to pass.”

That bill came to be known as the Sunday Sales Bill, which would approve the sale of liquor throughout the county on Sundays.

Son unknowingly clued in an informant again, saying, “You help them, they need to help you,” according to the affidavit.

Within that same conversation, the 24-page document quoted Son proclaiming, “I hope to God it passes. I’ve been working too hard on that shit.”

“I’m a registered lobbyist for it. You know, I’ve got like five or six stores that are going to pay me. So I need it to go through,” he added.

Just a week after that February exchange, the bill was presented to the Economic Matters Committee in the Maryland House.  Less than a month later, the bill passed.

Other damning video evidence showed an unnamed official pulling wads of cash from his pockets and giving it to a bank teller shortly after a meeting with Son and two liquor store owners, Young Jung Paig and Shin Ja Lee, according to authorities.

Paig and Lee also face federal charges. Paig owns Central Avenue Restaurant and Liquor Store. Lee owns Palmer Liquor Store. Both are located within county limits.

Prosecutors say that the men bribed state and local officials in return for their support of the Sunday sales legislation.

Sud, the liquor board commissioner, allegedly solicited bribes from lobbyists as well. Authorities claim he exchanged money for votes that would benefit his lobbyist clientele.

Sud also practices law in College Park, Maryland.

If convicted, all four defendants face a maximum five-year prison sentence for conspiracy and 10 years for bribery.

The Board of License Commissioners regulates more than 600 liquor stores, restaurants and other businesses.

A representative for the county did not return a phone call requesting comment on Friday.

This investigation comes just one month after police pulled over former county liquor board commissioner Charles W. Caldwell III for drunk driving outside the MGM Casino at the National Harbor on its opening night.

Caldwell reportedly asked police to make the incident “go away” when he was unable to pass a field sobriety test. He refused a breathalyzer.

Caldwell, 72, blamed his erratic driving on his age.

 

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