After Gordon Fox arrest, Elorza looks to void bar’s license

Shark Bar & Grille on Thayer Street in Providence. (photo: WPRI 12/Walt Buteau)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Mayor Jorge Elorza is calling on the Providence Board of Licenses to void all licenses held by the Thayer Street establishment at the center of the Gordon Fox bribery scandal.

The former House speaker earlier this month pleaded guilty to accepting a bribe of $52,500 from Shark Bar & Grille in exchange for helping them obtain a liquor license in 2008. At the time, Fox was vice chairman of the board and the business was receiving push back from police and neighboring Brown University.

“Public corruption at any level of government is unacceptable,” Mayor Elorza said. “I was disturbed to learn that the Providence License Board was used as a platform for bribery. The petition filed today sends a strong message that there will be no tolerance for corruption in our city and I hope the License Board moves swiftly to void the Shark Bar’s license.”

Former Speaker Gordon Fox outside federal court in Providence on March 3.
Former Speaker Gordon Fox outside federal court in Providence on March 3.

The mayor’s office said the petition was read into the record and submitted with seven supporting exhibits, including the transcript of Fox’s plea and guilty finding in Federal District Court, and all Federal District Court and other documents regarding the charges and the plea agreement.

The board still needs to schedule a public show cause hearing for Shark Bar & Grille.

As Target 12 first reported, Fox was charged with bribery, wire fraud and filing a false tax return, following an 18-month investigation. He entered a plea deal with prosecutors in exchange for a three-year prison sentence.

Ray Hugh, one of Shark’s current co-owners, did not return several requests for comment Monday. On the day the charges against Fox became public, Hugh flatly denied the charges. “This is news to me,” Hugh told Target 12. Informed of the specific allegations against Fox, he said: “That’s not true at all.” He hung up when asked whether law enforcement had contacted him.

Aside from the alleged bribe, Shark has had minor problems since it won its liquor license in 2008. Records reviewed by Target 12 show the restaurant has been cited for eight city ordinance violations since 2009, including two for selling alcohol to a minor in 2012 and another for a brawl that occurred inside the restaurant in 2013. All told, the restaurant has paid $1,750 in fines since it opened.

Fox represented the restaurant in front of the licensing board in 2012 for an underage drinking violation. In that incident, a door host told a 19-year-old working on behalf of the Providence police “just don’t drink” and allowed him to enter the establishment. The teenager then proceeded to purchase a rum and coke. Police charged the restaurant with a liquor law violation.

The restaurant agreed to pay a $350 fine during a pre-hearing conference that occurred behind closed doors on Dec. 6, 2012. Fox’s signature is on the agreement with the board. The city does not keep transcripts of pre-hearing conferences.

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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