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On the List

The Owls Nest Poker Club’s Membership Roster is Arresting

Jefferson Jackson Steele
THE SPREAD: The Owls Nest membership list seized by Baltimore City Police reveals ostensible patrons ranging from respectable citizens to convicted felons.
The City Paper Loaf-Cam™
Uli Loskot

By Van Smith | Posted 12/14/2005

During the Nov. 2 police raid on the Owls Nest poker club at 1800 Worcester St. in South Baltimore (“Fouled Nests,” Nov. 23), when gambling charges were brought and later dropped against 80 players, a number of items were seized, including a gun and more than $25,000 cash. But the private club’s list of members was perhaps the most sensitive item taken by police, since it includes the names and addresses of players who were recorded by Owls Nest management as having frequented the establishment, which purported to hold charity gambling events. While evidence of the charitable donations made by the Owls Nest is sparse—$2,350 over a six-month period earlier this year—evidence of its ties to criminals, prominent citizens, and a Baltimore County prosecutor is contained in its membership list, a copy of which has been obtained by City Paper.

The list includes approximately 750 names and addresses. Included are residents of Baltimore, several Maryland counties, the District of Columbia, and other states, near and far. Among those making the list are a Little Italy restaurateur, several lawyers, the owner of a local bike-messenger company, the director of a drug-treatment facility in Washington, D.C., a plastic surgeon, bankers and mortgage brokers, a teacher, real-estate agents, a local rock singer and a major-label pop singer, an NFL football player (a Baltimore Raven until recently) and his father, and someone referred to in the list only as “Bread Man (HS Bakery).”

“HS Bakery” is likely a reference to H&S Bakery, a large, Baltimore-based concern that has operations in 11 states. It is owned by the politically influential developer John Paterakis, whose well-worn nickname is “The Bread Man,” according to articles in The Washington Post and other publications. Paterakis relayed a message to City Paper through his secretary, who said, “He has never heard of this club, never belonged to this club, and never knew it even existed.”

Arthur Edward McGreevy, a Baltimore County assistant state’s attorney who ran unsuccessfully for Baltimore City Council in 2003, is also on the Owls Nest membership list. When McGreevy was told in a Dec. 7 telephone conversation that his name and the address of a property he owns were contained in the list, he interjected, “No way! That’s outrageous!” He immediately asked to go off the record, but when told that his on-the-record response would be preferred, he stated: “On the record, I would have no comment.”

According to the Maryland Lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct, for a Maryland lawyer to “commit a criminal act,” such as illegal gambling, is “professional misconduct” sanctionable by the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission. McGreevy’s supervisors at the Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s Office did not respond to numerous messages seeking comment about this matter.

Baltimore attorney Daniel Lawrence Sussman, a member of the Maryland Bar since 1978, was initially nonplussed when informed over the phone that his name appeared on the Owls Nest membership list. “So?” he responded flatly. When asked if there was a problem with attorneys engaging in a little illegal gambling, his tune changed dramatically: “Can I make this clear to you?” he said. “Fuck yourself.” Then he hung up.

Scattered liberally throughout the extensive Owls Nest roster are names and addresses of people with criminal histories that might give pause to the generally law-abiding gamblers who want to take a seat with strangers at the poker table for a friendly game. Four convicted drug felons mentioned in City Paper’s previous Owls Nest article—Naylor Harrison, William Sachse, Thomas Damron, and John Leroy Long Jr.—appear on the list. While criminal-background checks on each and every name on the list would be prohibitively time consuming for this article, City Paper looked into approximately 100 uncommon names on the list and found dozens of hits in the court records. Murder, drug dealing, weapons, assault, battery, and various types of theft, fraud, gambling, and financial crimes—convictions for all of these are found among Owls Nest members. The same can also be said of society at large, but the average citizen would probably not knowingly sit down for a game of high-stakes poker with such characters.

Take Gary Boukis, who owns Magic Messengers bike-courier service in Mount Vernon. His name is on the Owls Nest membership list, and he admits to going there once.

“It was a perfectly fine, well-run establishment,” he says when asked about his experience there. “I felt perfectly safe there. It wasn’t like criminal types [frequented the establishment], just regular people.” When informed of the types of crimes some listed members had committed, Boukis said, “Now you’re scaring the shit out of me.” He added, however, that “the fact of life is you got a lot of those things going on in the city,” and pointed out that simply taking a seat at a Baltimore bar might place an unsuspecting patron in the company of felons. “There’s a lot more wrong with this city than poker games.”

Mayor Martin O’Malley reflected Boukis’ opinion on WBAL Radio on Nov. 17. On the show, he discussed both the Owls Nest raid and a second poker raid, at the Aces High Club on Harford Road near the Baltimore County line, which netted a Baltimore City Police officer, Vickie Mengel, who now stands accused of illegal gambling.

“When I saw that second one,” O’Malley related to WBAL reporter Rob Lang, “I asked [police brass] how many people do we have assigned to the poker task force? Do you think we could reassign them to the violent crime and drug task force? I mean, all departments have to be mindful of vice, and I guess that’s part of the mission here, too. But the police department might be able to better tell you why it is that all of the sudden it seems like we’ve become obsessed with poker games. I think there are more deadly challenges facing our city and our citizens.”

Law-enforcement sources who spoke to City Paper on the condition of anonymity take issue with the mayor’s assessment, which they attribute to O’Malley not being fully informed of the situation that existed at the Owls Nest.

“I’m surprised nobody got hurt there,” one says, adding—in a sentiment shared by other law-enforcement sources—that given the number of drug dealers and violent offenders that were known to go there, serious crimes may have been committed, but not at the Owls Nest location.

Aside from serious crime, analyzing the Owls Nest list manifests members’ financial problems. Some members with criminal histories went through bankruptcies—as did Owls Nest proprietors Joseph Anthony Cary and Gerald Curtis Dickens—and at least one was ordered to attend Gamblers Anonymous regularly as part of his probation after receiving a three-year sentence for theft. Some, including Cary, emerged from bankruptcy and quickly regained a strong financial footing.

One listed member, Lawrence Albert Rao Jr., for example, went bankrupt in 2002—and still was able to buy a home in Fallston for more than $1 million earlier this year. Further evidence of Rao’s wealth is found in a recent drunk-driving charge, when he was behind the wheel of a brand-new Cadillac. Among the creditors in his bankruptcy are Mercedes Benz, Porsche, and two jewelers. Rao’s criminal convictions include two burglaries and an assault, and he’s scheduled to go on trial for another assault in January. City Paper was unable to reach Rao for comment.

While the majority of Owls Nest members may be honest, law-abiding citizens who like to do a little hush-hush illegal gambling for kicks, there is still plenty of smoke and fire in the criminal records of many members to suggest the vice squad’s raids of poker games may not be the obsessive overkill O’Malley suggests. Those records also add poignancy to the Owls Nest’s membership policy, as stated on a flier distributed last spring: “We reserve the right to refuse membership to anyone that may be detrimental to the Owls Club.”

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