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Feds: More bribes in Prince George's

By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post editors

The owners of a Langley Park liquor store and restaurant who were arrested in a broad corruption probe in Prince George's County talked about paying bribes to county officials in conversations captured by FBI wiretaps, a federal prosecutor said Tuesday.

Federal agents listened to Amrik S. Melhi, 51, and his wife, Ravinder K. Melhi, 49, talk about paying off county officials, Assistant U.S. Attorney James A. Crowell said at a court hearing.

When federal agents raided the Melhis' home in Clarksville Monday, they found $400,000 in cash in a closet, Crowell said during a bond heading for Ravinder Melhi.

The disclosure, in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, sheds light on how the arrest of the Melhis and seven others, including three police officers, fits into the corruption probe.

The investigation became public Friday when County Executive Jack B. Johnson and his wife, Leslie Johnson, were arrested on charges of evidence tampering and destruction of evidence.

Leslie Johnson allegedly flushed a $100,000 check from a developer down a toilet in their home and tried to hide $79,600 in cash in her bra as FBI agents knocked at the door of their home with a search warrant.

Nine people, including three Prince George's police officers, were arrested Monday on charges involving drugs, guns, and black-market alcohol and cigarettes as authorities ratcheted up the sprawling corruption probe in the county.

Federal agents conducted numerous searches around the county and moved to seize more than 30 homes, businesses and vehicles as part of the widening investigation into corruption in Prince George's.

On Tuesday, Magistrate Judge Charles B. Day ordered that Ravinder Melhi be held in jail.

By Ruben Castaneda  | November 16, 2010; 2:41 PM ET
Categories:  Pr. George's, Ruben Castaneda  
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Comments

When does the auction begin: 30 homes, businesses and vehicles

Posted by: pink1 | November 16, 2010 3:37 PM | Report abuse

Please keep racking the theives in so that our taxes will not go up lol

Posted by: shadon1 | November 16, 2010 3:43 PM | Report abuse

Currency is not illegal to own.

And in the amount found in the suspect's closet, it assures the interest and loyalty of the defense attorney.

The prosecutor would criminalize every resource a defendant has, because once it gets into a courtroom it is no longer about justice.

Posted by: blasmaic | November 16, 2010 4:27 PM | Report abuse

I can understand why it would be newsworthy if the recipient of bribes was found with $400K stashed in a closet, but what (if any) significance is there to the payor having it?

I suppose it was being used as a slush fund, but still, keeping cash in your home is not a criminal offense. It would have been helpful if the story attempted to draw some connection between the stash and the alleged payments.

Posted by: Meridian1 | November 16, 2010 4:29 PM | Report abuse

Are you people insane? What legitimate businessperson has $400,000 sitting in their closet? Wow...no wonder why there is so much corruption is out there when people aren't suspicious about what is blatantly obvious.

Posted by: Aerowaz | November 16, 2010 4:32 PM | Report abuse

Hey blasmaic, if that $400,000 really was legally acquired and all taxes were paid, why would they put it in their bedroom closet and not an FDIC insured bank account earning interest? I guess their defense might be that they listen to Glen and Rush and were convinced that all the banks were going to fail! Seriously, these people are so obviously guilty of tax evasion and bribery it's lame for people to try to defend them.

Posted by: buffysummers | November 16, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Ownership of currency is not a crime.

That much cash on hand is exactly what the defense lawyers want to see, and exactly at the time they want to see it.

The prosecution would attempt to criminalize every resource a defendant has.

Posted by: blasmaic | November 16, 2010 4:37 PM | Report abuse

"an FDIC insured bank account earning interest?"

There a ton of good reasons.

But the most silly notion you have is that bank interest rates are so good they would make anyone want to put their money there.

You may also note that FDIC insurance covers only $250,000 per depositer.

It's so funny. I told a friend about how the 9/11 terrorists deposited $100,000 without incident. He lit up and said, "yeah, I deposited a settlement check for my mom's legal claim and the phone began ringing immediately."

Posted by: blasmaic | November 16, 2010 4:44 PM | Report abuse

You need to get your facts straight. The owner of Tick Tock had no idea the FBI was investigating him for tax evasion and bribery so why would he be stockpiling $400,00 in cash in his closet to pay a defense attorney which he would never even think that he needed since he wasn't committing a crime and didn't know anyone was investigating him for committing a crime?

Posted by: buffysummers | November 16, 2010 4:46 PM | Report abuse

So you're saying a black man must be guilty of something other than success to be arrested?

Posted by: blasmaic | November 16, 2010 4:50 PM | Report abuse

Hey blasmaic, if that $400,000 really was legally acquired and all taxes were paid, why would they put it in their bedroom closet and not an FDIC insured bank account earning interest? I guess their defense might be that they listen to Glen and Rush and were convinced that all the banks were going to fail! Seriously, these people are so obviously guilty of tax evasion and bribery it's lame for people to try to defend them.

Posted by: buffysummers
-----------------------------------
There is nothing "obvious" here. Unless you can point out a law that says everyone MUST put x amount of dollars in a bank then just having a large amount of cash in one's possession is not a crime. If you think they are guilty of some crime go out and prove it. And no saying they MUST be guilty because they have $400,000 in their house is not proof. I sure hope the prosecutors don't try to use that rediculous argument in court. Any decent defense lawyer will get them laughed out of court.

Posted by: 6thsense79 | November 16, 2010 4:57 PM | Report abuse

That $79,000 is racist. Why did that money choose to jump into a black woman's bra. Why not a white one? That cash must be racist framing her like that. Racist I tell ya.

Posted by: j751 | November 16, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

Yes, owning LEGAL TENDER is not illegal. Being caught on a wiretap planning to bribe a government official on the other hand makes a prosecutor salivate at the thought of forfeiture proceedings to take that cash.

Posted by: PepperDr | November 16, 2010 5:11 PM | Report abuse

Better a closet than the big banks or investment houses.

Posted by: snake_taylor | November 16, 2010 5:26 PM | Report abuse

Hooray, a development that ties Johnson to the Tick Tock. Now, WPO, was this an investigation that began with the Tick Tock that implicated Johnson, or was it an investigation of Johnson that somehow spilled over to involve the Tick Tock? Is it over, or are there more arrests to come? Cigarette and liquor smuggling would involve the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms. How come this was an FBI investigation and not a BATF? Is it because the bribery spreads to the BATF?

Posted by: edwardallen54 | November 16, 2010 6:12 PM | Report abuse

Yes, if the FBI can force the banks to increase the rates they pay on CDs, then holding a lot of cash would look suspicious. Unfortunately, every time the agents try it, someone upstairs gets one of those VIP mortgages and whole the thing gets shut down again.

Posted by: blasmaic | November 16, 2010 6:58 PM | Report abuse

Yes, if the FBI can force the banks to increase the rates they pay on CDs, then holding a lot of cash would look suspicious. Unfortunately, every time the agents try it, someone upstairs gets one of those VIP mortgages like Senator Dodd, and whole the thing gets shut down again.

Posted by: blasmaic | November 16, 2010 6:59 PM | Report abuse

Could mean a lot of things. Keeping that much cash, especially considering the business, may mean for example that the owner wasn't "accounting" for it for the purposes of taxes - that's apparently what's in play here that alcohol and cigarettes where sold to avoid taxes,etc. If drugs are involved, it may mean that there is a laundering operation going on through the business itself. Liquor stores are essentially a cash and carry business. Very interesting to see how this plays out and what other elected officials had their hands out. Once I get some time, I'll look to see if any electeds received campaign donations from the business owners (not that it would necessarily mean that they took bribes but it would look awfully shady).

Posted by: george_w_bush0 | November 16, 2010 7:11 PM | Report abuse

DISCLAIMER: THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION IS FROM THE MARYLAND CAMPAIGN FINANCE DATABASE. POSTING THIS INFORMATION DOES NOT IMPLY THAT ANYONE IS THE SUBJECT OR TARGET OF THE CURRENT INVESTIGATION. IT IS PUBLICLY AVAILABLE INFORMATION ABOUT WHO THIS GENTLEMAN MADE POLITICAL CAMPAIGN DONATIONS TO:

(http://www.mdelections.org/campaign-finance/advanced-search/contributions)

Candidates Account Contributor Name(Address) Amount Date Received Contribution Type

1. Baker, Rushern III Friends Of-Comm For Pol Change (CPC) MELHI CORPORATION
(1820 UNIVERSITY BOULEVARD ,
HYATTSVILLE, MD, 20783) $500.00 08/07/2006 Business Entity

2.)Baker, Rushern III Friends Of-Comm For Pol Change (CPC) MELHI CORPORATION
(1820 UNIVERSITY BOULEVARD ,
HYATTSVILLE, MD, 20783) $1,000.00 05/03/2006 Business Entity

3.) Benson, Joanne C. Friends Of Melhi Corporation
(1820 University Blvd ,
Hyattsville, MD, 20783) $500.00 12/05/2005 Ticket purchases by Business Entity
Remarks: Check #09339

4.) Jackson, Michael Friends Of Tick Tock Melhi Corp
(1820 University Blvd ,
Hyattsville, MD, 20783) $250.00 06/11/2010 Ticket purchases by Business Entity

5.) Jackson, Michael Friends Of Melhi Corporation
(1820 University BLVD ,
Hyattsville, MD, 20783) $200.00 11/21/2006 Ticket purchases by Business Entity
Remarks: Steak-out fundraiser

6.) Jackson, Michael Friends Of Melhi Corporation
(1820 University BLVD ,
Hyattsville, MD, 20783) $200.00 01/20/2006 Ticket purchases by Business Entity

7.) Jackson, Michael Friends Of Melhi Corporation
(1820 University BLVD ,
Hyattsville, MD, 20783) $150.00 09/18/2005 Ticket purchases by Business Entity
Remarks: DONATION/ STEAK OUT FUNDRAISER

8.) Jackson, Michael Friends Of Melhi Corporation
(1820 University BLVD ,
Hyattsville, MD, 20783) $2,000.00 08/18/2003 Business Entity
Remarks: Donation

9.) Johnson, Jack Friends Of MELHI CORPORATION
(1820UNIVERSITY BLVD ,
, MD, ) $1,650.00 11/30/2004 Business Entity
Remarks: FUNDRAISER

10.) Johnson, Jack Friends Of MELHI CORPORATION
(1820UNIVERSITY BLVD ,
, MD, ) $500.00 07/11/2002 Business Entity
Remarks: Contribution

11.) Johnson, Jack Friends Of MELHI CORPORATION
(1820UNIVERSITY BLVD ,
, MD, ) $1,000.00 11/01/2001 Ticket purchases by Business Entity

12.) Ramirez, Victor Friends Of MELHI CORP
(1820UNIVERSITY BLVD ,
HYATTSVILLE, MD, 20783) $2,000.00 01/10/2006 Business Entity

Posted by: george_w_bush0 | November 16, 2010 7:26 PM | Report abuse

When will FEDs help stop the murders in Prince Georges? Are any prisoner guards on list?

Posted by: *Futurejumps | November 16, 2010 7:26 PM | Report abuse

If I had $400k. I would NOT put it into big banks so that they can sit on it. I would certainly keep it under my mattress and sit on it myself.

Posted by: madstamina | November 16, 2010 7:57 PM | Report abuse

check this link to an article from the Washington Post back in April 2005. Tic Tock owners complaining about paying "off duty" police officers $100,000.00 for protection. And.. they guy spent time in jail for trying to become a citizen illegally!! The only good thing about this is we can close down liquor store locations in PG right away!

http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A12492-2005Apr23?language=printer

Posted by: johnnybegood | November 16, 2010 9:59 PM | Report abuse

Our lawmakers need to wake up and see the racket that is being built. There is a reason the county and state won't allow supermarkets to sell beer and wine (except for that one 30 miles from your house). There is also a reason we can't get wine shipped from another state to Maryland.

We are being led to the liquor stores. The same ones where 14-year-olds hang out in the parking lot to get alcohol from buyers at the drive thru. The same ones where drunks spend their last dime on lotto tickets and hit on every female that comes inside. The same ones where drunks fight over parking spaces while the cops sit and watch porn in their cars. Wake up lawmakers, and take a look around now. The fog is lifting.

Posted by: xcxc1 | November 16, 2010 10:19 PM | Report abuse

Currency is not illegal to own.

And in the amount found in the suspect's closet, it assures the interest and loyalty of the defense attorney.

The prosecutor would criminalize every resource a defendant has, because once it gets into a courtroom it is no longer about justice.

Posted by: blasmaic | November 16, 2010 4:27 PM | Re

______________

'Twas F. Lee Bailey who wisely recommended criminalizing the possession of huge bundles of cash. Cash in a bank account is just as enjoyable to an attorney's eye as the stuff in the fridge. Very, very likely Mr. and Ms. Johnson have moneys in legitimate banks the Feds have not and will not touch; she earned a good living as a judge, for heaven's sake. Expropriation renders more equal the defense received by this pair and the rest of us. A lawyer friend told me about his senior partners, whose retirement was destroyed by their son's having been charged with drug possession on an aircraft. I cannot feel any sympathy in this case.

Posted by: Martial | November 17, 2010 12:17 AM | Report abuse

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