Licensing bd chair: ‘More concrete information’ needed to close restaurant that bribed Fox

Providence Board of Licenses meets on The $3 Bar. (photo by Dan McGowan/WPRI)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The chairwoman of the Providence Board of Licenses said Tuesday the board would need “more concrete information” before it moves to revoke the liquor license of the Thayer Street restaurant whose owners paid former House Speaker Gordon Fox $52,500 in bribes in order to obtain a license in 2008, according to prosecutors.

Johanna Harris, who has led the board for about a year, said license holders are expected to remain upstanding citizens, but she noted that no one from Shark Bar & Grille has been charged in connection with the bribes paid to Fox. Mayor Jorge Elorza has said he wants to investigate whether the restaurant can be closed.

“Right now, it’s too premature,” Harris said in a brief phone conversation Tuesday. The board meets Wednesday at 1 p.m., but it isn’t scheduled to discuss the restaurant’s license.

Fox, who as vice-chair of the licensing board in 2008 helped push for the restaurant to get its liquor permit, was charged Tuesday with bribery, wire fraud and filing a false tax return, all following an 18-month investigation by a federal grand jury, according to court documents unsealed Tuesday. He reached a plea deal in exchange for a three-year prison sentence.

Fox admitted that he accepted $35,000 in four checks and $17,500 in cash from three of the restaurant’s partners around Sept. 5, 2008, a week after the board voted unanimously to approve the liquor license, according to court documents obtained by Target 12.

The vote came in the face of vocal objections of Providence police, Brown University, a sitting city councilman, who all raised questions about the number of liquor licenses already approved on Thayer Street. “I don’t know if we can take another liquor license up there,” Providence Police Lt. John Ryan told the board at the time.

Reached Tuesday morning, Joseph Dalomba, one of the restaurant’s former co-owners, confirmed to Target 12 that he did speak to law enforcement, but declined to comment further. Raymond Hugh, who has co-owned the restaurant since 2008, said “that’s not true” when he was informed of the bribery charge for Fox. When a reporter asked Hugh if he talked to law enforcement, he hung up the phone.

Commissioners for the Board of Licenses are paid $19,713 a year – the chair earns $26,850 – and generally meet about three times each week. The board processes thousands of entertainment and liquor licenses annually while also handling disciplinary cases involving bars and restaurants.

Records show Shark Bar & Grille was fined twice for a total of $400 in 2012, once for sale of alcohol to an underage person.

No current member of the board served alongside Fox, who left the panel in 2009. The current board includes Harris, Rev. Jeffrey Williams, state Sen. Juan Pichardo, Delia Rodriguez-Masjoan and Luis Peralta.

Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

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