On July 11, Raj Bommakanti, owner and licensee of the former Fells Point Liquor and Bar at 1709 Fleet St., was found guilty by the Liquor Board of paying out on a video poker machine in his store on May 15, 2012.
According to an undercover detective’s report on file at the board, on May 15, Baltimore City Police Detective Shelton Jones responded to a complaint of illegal gambling at Bommakanti’s establishment.
The report said that once inside the liquor store, at 9:35 p.m., Jones observed a poker machine being played by a man in his early 40s; the player had accumulated 1,300 points when he motioned to a clerk—a man in his early 60s.
The clerk then looked over to the machine where he used an unknown object to reset the 1,300 points back to zero. According to the report, the player then walked up to the counter where the clerk counted out an unknown amount of money and handed it to the player.
Police later obtained a search warrant and on May 18 seized $5,761, five video gaming machine circuit boards, five video gaming machine power packs, and one piece of mail.
Frank Boozer, Bommakanti’s counsel, asked Jones how he inspected the video poker machines.
Jones said: “When we break them open, we see wiring. A knock-off switch on a video poker machine is illegal.”
Boozer asked Bommakanti if he instructed the employee to pay out.
Bommakanti replied no. Boozer then asked the board to dismiss the case because the incident occurred 26 months ago and because it had never resulted in criminal charges.
“I believe there’s substantial evidence and it’s persuasive,” Commissioner Dana Petersen-Moore said.
Boozer’s request was denied.
Chairman Thomas Ward asked: “If I find your client guilty, what kind of penalty do you suggest?”
“He has no ability to pay,” said Boozer, who detailed Bommakanti’s loss of the business in a fire on Oct. 4, 2012. He indicated that Bommakanti had yet to receive a full insurance payout.
The commissioners unanimously found Bommakanti guilty of the violation and ordered him to pay a $2,000 fine. Why the charge took 26 months to come before the board was never addressed at the hearing.
In a follow up phone call, Michelle Bailey-Hedgepeth, executive secretary for the board, said the case was delayed for a variety of reasons.
“It was first scheduled for October 2012, but the fire occurred the week or the day of the proposed hearing,” she said.
Bailey-Hedgepeth added that Bommakanti has not been operating since October of 2012, and there was a recent death in the licensee’s family.
“That’s how it became a two-year issue,” she said.
Bommakanti is trying to transfer his liquor license to 1615 Eastern Ave., where he hopes to open another tavern.
That transfer hearing is currently on the Liquor Board docket for July 31.
by Danielle Sweeney