By Mark F. Gray, AFRO Staff Writer, mgray@afro.com

Another state audit has revealed Prince George’s County is not compliant when it comes to following guidelines to oversee its regulatory practices.  The General Assembly’s Office of Legislative Audits says the County’s Liquor Board didn’t properly inspect licensees or adequately respond to complaints between 2015-2017.

In a story first reported by {The Washington Post} the audit concluded that 73 approved applications lacked required documentation and the Board had no written policies on how to handle complaints about licensees, among other issues.  This audit is the start of a review process that will be conducted every three years covering inspections, disciplinary procedures, management oversight and licensing.    The County’s Liquor Board has been under intensive scrutiny since 2017 when they promised reforms.

A state audit revealed the Prince George’s County Liquor Board did not properly inspect licensees or adequately respond to complaints between 2015-2017.

The Liquor Board is responsible for approving and processing alcoholic beverage licenses. Conclusions from the audit revealed the Liquor Board generated $2.3 million in revenue during the 2017 fiscal year. That year, the Board also granted 73 alcoholic beverage licenses but none of the licensees were properly vetted.  There is no documentation on file that should have been required before approval, including proof of residency for the business owner and security plans for the business. The audit also found that written policies and procedures were not comprehensive nor had they been formally adopted by the Board.

According to the audit, from fiscal 2015 though fiscal 2017, there were reportedly 53 complaints filed to the Board. As of last July, 17 were reportedly still unresolved. The Liquor Board also didn’t provide routine inspections for 102 of the 618 licensed businesses. Inspection reports were sometimes incomplete or flawed by errors. Procedures to handle complaints about licensees that were ambiguous at best directed to the Board through  the county’s 311 system were not always investigated, and the Board had no written policies or procedures specifying how to do so.

The audit reviewed 20 cases of inspection violations. In 10 of those cases it found the licensees accepted a compromise offer from staff.  Non-compliant licensees were reportedly offered the chance to attend public disciplinary hearings and in some cases staff would allow those licensees to avoid hearings altogether in exchange for an admission of guilt and pay permits in some cases at a reduced rate.  That violated a 2015 opinion by the Maryland attorney general saying the Board didn’t have the statutory authority to delegate to staff decisions about whether to fine offenders and in what amount.

The Liquor Board promised a procedural makeover after a 2017 scandal when the commissioner and executive director were charged in and convicted in an elaborate bribery scheme. Former state delegate and County Council member William Campos (D) was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison for accepting bribes and kickbacks in exchange for official favors. 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.

Officials promised to overhaul the Board in 2017 under former County Executive Rushern L. Baker. However, after her inauguration current  County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, who took office in January, appointed three new members: Daphne Turpin Forbes, Tammie Norman and Tammy Sparkman. She also reappointed Armando Camacho and Kenneth Miles.

Last month, after Prince George’s County Public Schools were cited for not completing 14 of 23 necessary improvements in the five years after a previous audit revealed an absence of the required documentation for contract, Alsobrooks spoke on accountability, saying she promises,“to make sure we are having accountability across our Boards.”