City names owners, ‘silent partner’ in restaurant at center of Fox bribery scandal

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The city has identified the man federal prosecutors have called a “silent partner” in the Thayer Street restaurant at the center of a bribery scandal involving former House Speaker Gordon Fox.

Documents filed by the city’s law department Monday state Bahij Boutros was one of three partners in Shark Bar & Grille in 2008 when Fox, then the vice-chair of the Providence Board of Licenses, accepted $52,500 in bribes in order to help the restaurant obtain a liquor license. The city also named Ray Phillip Hugh and Joseph Dalomba as owners of the restaurant.

“Upon information and belief on August 29, 2008, the ownership of ‘Shark’ also included a ‘silent partner’ named Bahij Boutros, also known as David Boutros,” the city’s law department wrote in a petition asking the licensing board to void any business licenses held by the restaurant.

The Board of Licenses has not set a date for its hearing on the city’s request.

Boutros declined to comment in a text message Wednesday evening. He referred all questions to his lawyer. The Board of Licenses has not set a date for its hearing on the city’s request.

Earlier this month, Fox was charged with bribery, wire fraud and filing a false tax return and reached a plea deal in exchange for a three-year prison sentence. Fox would be sentenced June 11 if U.S. District Court Judge Mary Lisi signs on the agreement he reached with the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Law enforcement officials have never named Boutros, Hugh or Dalomba as the men who paid the bribes to Fox after the board unanimously approved the restaurant’s liquor license. Investigators allege two partners in the restaurant paid Fox $35,000 and a “silent partner” paid another $17,500 a week after the vote.

Corporate filings reviewed by WPRI.com show Hugh and Dalomba were the president and vice president of the restaurant during that time period. On the day Fox pleaded guilty, Hugh hung up the phone when a reporter asked if he spoke with investigators. Dalomba confirmed to WPRI.com he had talked with law enforcement, but declined to say whether was involved in a bribe.

Boutros, who owns other restaurants in Providence and South Kingstown, was not listed on any of Shark’s corporate fillings until 2011, when he replaced Dalomba as the restaurant’s vice president.

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza said this week he wants to close Shark because “public corruption at any level of government is unacceptable.”

“I was disturbed to learn that the Providence License Board was used as a platform for bribery,” Elorza said Monday. “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.”

Elorza has also made plans to donate the $1,000 campaign contribution he received from Dalomba last year to charity, according to spokesman Evan England.

Aside from the alleged bribe, Shark has had minor problems since it won its liquor license in 2008. Records 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.

This report has been updated.

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

Tim White, Ted Nesi and Walt Buteau contributed to this report.

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