By: Lindsay Watts
UPPER MARLBORO, Md. – It’s the biggest corruption scandal to hit Prince George’s County in years. Federal investigators call it Operation Dry Saloon, and it centers on bribery, corruption and liquor. So far, eight people have been convicted, including two former Maryland state delegates.
A whistleblower tells FOX 5 that he came forward years ago with evidence the man at the center of the scandal, David Son, was engaged in illegal activity. He says inaction at the highest levels of the state allowed Son to continue to break the law.
Son, who served for years on the Prince George’s County Liquor Board, orchestrated a cash for votes scheme where liquor store owners paid thousands of dollars to public officials because they wanted a new law passed that would let them sell booze on Sundays. Son was arrested in early 2017.
Franklin Jackson was chair of the Prince George’s County Liquor Board, working for many years alongside Son. He says in early 2014, he found out that months earlier Son held a campaign fundraiser for then-Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown. It was who Son invited that caught Jackson’s attention.
“People who own liquor stores, people who were attorneys and represented liquor store owners, and at the fundraiser, David Son actually solicited and collected several thousand dollars on behalf of Anthony Brown’s political campaign,” Jackson told FOX 5.
Campaign finance records show within two day of the fundraiser, thousands of dollars in donations to Brown’s campaign from Prince George’s County bars and liquor stores. A spokesman for Rep. Brown says Brown recalls attending the event and that all donations, expenditures and disclosures from that period “complied with every law and regulation.”
The law governing the liquor board says employees can’t solicit political donations from licensees or any person or corporation engaged in liquor sales in the county. The state of Maryland governed the liquor board, so Jackson says he first went to State Sen. Doug Peters, the head of the Prince George’s County Senate Delegation. He says Peters already knew of the fundraiser.
“It did not concern him and, in fact, instead of him reporting it to the governor, which is the action that I thought he would take, he actually communicated to David Son that I had expressed these concerns to him,” Jackson said.
Jackson says he then wrote a letter to then-Gov. Martin O’Malley himself, detailing the allegations and providing receipts from the event and campaign finance records. According to the letter, Jackson asked that Son be removed from the board for the alleged illegal behavior.
O’Malley’s former chief of staff, John Griffin, confirmed that the governor’s office received a complaint about Son and investigated. FOX 5 asked what the investigation found, but Griffin cited legal limitations on what can be revealed because “this investigation was a personnel matter.” He pointed out that Son resigned from the liquor board a few months after the complaint was made.
While Son did resign from his position, he did so on his own terms. A resignation letter provided by Jackson says Son wanted to spend more time with his family.
Despite the accusations that he broke the law, Son quickly got another government job as an expert in the law. Son was hired by the Prince George’s County Senate Delegation, which was chaired by Peters. Son assisted with legislation that would allow some Prince George’s County liquor stores to sell on Sundays.
Then just a year after his resignation from the liquor board, Son returned to work there again.
“It was unbelievable to me that they would rehire him,” Jackson said.
Many of the bribes that landed Son and his cohorts in prison centered on that Sunday sales bill and Son’s position on the liquor board. To this day, Jackson says he can’t comprehend why the state never took action.
“All those things point to an indifference to corruption,” Jackson said.
FOX 5 has learned it’s not last call yet for Operation Dry Saloon. An FBI source says the investigation is still ongoing.
FOX 5 requested an interview with Sen. Peters and asked him for his response to the claims made by Jackson.
An emailed statement reads:
“Senator Peters is running against a Trump Administration contractor, so it’s no surprise Fox News would be part of this last minute smear. But the facts are clear – Senator Peters has been a voice for clean government, and always will be no matter how many last minute attacks come from Fox News and Trump Administration contractors.”
A spokesman for the Baltimore Field Office of the FBI is urging anyone with information about this case or any public corruption case to contact investigators at 410-265-8080.