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How Did Noel Liverpool Sr. Go From Being a Successful College Athlete to Being Part of The City's Underground Economy?

Baltimore Evening Sun, Dec. 11, 1987
A photo of Noel Liverpool from a 1987 newspaper article.

By Jeffrey Anderson | Posted 10/8/2008

In his heyday, Noel Liverpool Sr. was a business major at Morgan State University who started for both the basketball and football teams and carried a 2.5 grade point average. Students called him "Pool" and even chanted his name at a basketball game one night in 1987, as the powerful center poured in 25 points for the Golden Bears.

Like many college athletes Liverpool did not end up in the NBA or the NFL. Nor did he land at a Fortune 500 company or a local investment firm like Legg Mason. The East Baltimore native instead became an entrepreneur, acquiring property, opening men's clothing stores, and establishing himself as a low-key local icon of sorts.

But there's more to Liverpool than his image as an inner-city businessman implies. Liverpool's clothing companies all failed, some of his associates have turned out to be involved in the drug trade, and his name is associated with a tavern known to law enforcement as a neutral zone where criminals, public officials, and police mingle. He has no criminal record, and despite 20 years as a businessman has little to show on paper, besides a 2,200-square-foot house in Randallstown, a string of failed companies, and a habit of getting sued (and losing) in civil court. (Read a detailed history of Liverpool's business and real estate dealings.)

Now, in the federal investigation of Milton Tillman Jr., another East Baltimore businessman with whom Liverpool has ties, Liverpool may have turned up on the feds' radar as well.

Tillman Jr., a longshoreman, former club owner, and an ex-con who controls vast swaths of real estate and a sizable chunk of the city's bail bonds market, was the target of a recent raid by the FBI and the IRS that yielded a 40-some-page list of documents seized ("Tillman Jr. Properties Raided by Feds," The News Hole, Aug. 20; "Citizen of the Year," Mobtown Beat, Aug. 27). Some of those documents and state business records make clear that a key nexus between Tillman Jr. and Liverpool is their affiliation with Capers LLC, the liquor-license holder and owner of Five Mile House tavern, on Reisterstown Road in Northwest Baltimore. The bar is renowned as a gathering place for power players in the black community--including police officers, politicians, businessmen, and drug dealers.

On Aug. 20, the feds descended on Tillman Jr.'s 4 Aces Bail Bonds and New Trend Development offices at 2332 E. Monument St. Among the items they seized was a check of an unspecified amount to Noel Liverpool, according to search-warrant returns filed in federal court ("Documents on Tillman Raid Available," The News Hole, Aug. 22). Search-warrant returns further state the FBI and IRS were seeking tax or real estate information about companies associated with Tillman Jr. and his son, Milton Tillman III, including Capers LLC, which lists both Liverpool and Tillman III as board members.

Asked of the significance of these relationships, Assistant U.S. Attorney Martin Clarke, who is handling the Tillman investigation, declines to confirm or deny that Liverpool is a target. "You may be ahead of us or you may be behind us, but I just can't say anything about it," Clarke says.

So, just who is Noel Liverpool Sr.? And what's the deal with Five Mile House? Neither Liverpool nor the Tillmans nor their respective attorneys returned calls for comment.

Liverpool is a 1985 graduate of Patterson High School who excelled in basketball and football. He was recruited to play football at Morgan State but chose basketball instead. By his junior year he went out for football as well--an unusual feat in college athletics. "If anyone can play both sports, he's the guy," then hoops coach Nat Frazier told a reporter at the time.

Former Morgan State sports information director Joe McIver says Liverpool still attends the occasional Golden Bears basketball game. He recalls Liverpool as a 6-foot-5, upward of 220-pound center who was strong but short for his position. "He was all-conference one year," McIver says. "He was kind of quiet, but outgoing."

Liverpool, who entered the university with the class of 1989, does not appear in the Morgan State yearbook. Even a 1987 school newspaper article about him is accompanied by a team photo in which he does not appear. Morgan State officials refuse to confirm whether he graduated. Current sports information director Leonard Haynes did not return calls seeking to confirm other biographical details. According to McIver, the university's assistant budget director, Marvin Hicks, is a good friend of Liverpool's. He did not return numerous calls from City Paper.

After college, Liverpool went into the men's clothing business, but his companies--C-Lo Clothing, Inner City Gear, Inner City Gear II, and Inner City Gear Entertainment Inc.--all folded after a few years in the mid- to late 1990s. In 1996, Liverpool helped Shawn Michael Green, currently a fugitive from a federal drug-trafficking indictment, set up a store in Mondawmin Mall called Total Male II. The store is now defunct ("Flight Connections," Mobtown Beat, March 12). The original Total Male is located next door to Tillman Jr.'s 4 Aces Bail Bonds, and was the subject of a 1997 Baltimore Police Department special investigation into drug trafficking, according to court documents. Total Male is a trade name formerly registered to a company that Tillman Jr. founded in the 1980s, All Pro Sports Enterprises Inc.

Former Baltimore City Liquor License Board Commissioner Jeff Pope served on the board when Liverpool's wife, Etta, submitted an application in 2004 for a liquor license at 4217 Erdman Ave., the Club House Bar and Grill, which had been owned by drug dealers since 1990 ("Creative Licensing," Mobtown Beat, April 9). Liverpool listed Total Male and Five Mile House as former employers on his wife's application. Pope was a senior at Morgan State when Noel Liverpool was a freshman, but he doesn't recall him making a big impression.

Web sites characterize Five Mile House as a pub with dancing, catering, and after-hours events. The Maryland-Washington Minority Contractors Association held its Christmas party there in 2005, in an upstairs hall that also is rented by unions and companies for social events.

Retired Baltimore police sergeant Craig Gentile, formerly of the department's vice squad, characterizes Five Mile House as "Luxembourg, for the black community."

"Politicians could rub elbows with high-level drug dealers," he says. "Or, police could go in there off-duty. There were a lot of fundraisers. But if a senator or congressman was going to be there, we'd be instructed to stay away."

Gentile recalls that when Five Mile House came up at ComStat meetings, which was not an infrequent occurrence, by the time he and his crew got there, the place would be empty or closed. "You can put up all the gold lighting and ferns you want, but it's still like putting lipstick on a pig," he says.

Former Baltimore Police Commissioner Leonard Hamm, now the chief of security at Coppin State University, recalls going to a Christmas party there one year but says he knows nothing about the place. Hamm presided over ComStat meetings as commissioner from 2005 to '07, and told City Paper in 2007, "I'm born and raised here. . . . I know who the players are, I know who the pretenders are, and I know who the powerbrokers are."

Yet Hamm says he has never heard of Noel Liverpool Sr., and that he knows little about Milton Tillman Jr. Informed that Tillman Jr. is under federal investigation--a story that has been widely reported--and that the feds have seized evidence related to Liverpool and Five Mile House, Hamm replies, "That's news to me."

Additional reporting by Van Smith

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Tags: noel liverpool sr., milton tillman jr., shadow economy

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