- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 11, 2007

Antoine Jones had spent most of the past decade in prison for dealing cocaine when he applied to the D.C. government for an alcohol-beverage license in 2004.

The District nonetheless awarded Jones a license, allowing him to open the Club Level’s on Montana Avenue in Northeast, a popular nightclub that authorities say was really a front for a multimillion-dollar cocaine-dealing network with ties to Texas and Mexico.

Jones, 47, was arrested and charged in 2005 with drug trafficking and other felony charges. A jury failed to reach a verdict in January, and he now awaits a second trial that could result in life in prison if convicted.

D.C. officials acknowledge that when Jones applied for the license they were unaware of his criminal history, which an FBI agent in a 2005 wiretap affidavit called “extensive.”

“Mr. Jones answered on the application that he did not have any convictions,” said Maria Delaney, executive director of the District’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA). “Had we known about the conviction, he would not have received a license.”

One reason Jones’ criminal past went undetected is that D.C. applicants are required to obtain police clearance only in the District and the state in which they live.

In the case of Jones, a Maryland resident, officials missed his 1991 conviction for cocaine dealing in Arlington, which resulted in a six-year prison sentence with three years suspended.

Court records also show Jones was arrested in 1993 in the District on drug-related charges, and while out on bail was arrested again for possession of more than 600 grams of cocaine. In 1994, he pleaded guilty in the case and was sentenced to 10 years, according to court records. That conviction was then sealed.

On Jones’ application packet, reviewed by The Washington Times, ABRA employee Jolly Harper indicated that the District obtained a police clearance for Jones.

However, a sealed conviction would not appear in a criminal-background search, said Lt. William O’Conner, of the Metropolitan Police Department’s records branch.

He also confirmed the board’s policy is to check only records for the District and the applicant’s home state, so Jones would have receive clearance despite his Virginia conviction.

The U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment on why Jones’ records were sealed in the 1994 case.

An ABRA official said the agency once required applicants to submit fingerprints, which were then run through an FBI check, but the policy was discontinued in the early 1990s.

Miss Delaney said the agency is attempting to make changes to avoid a similar occurrence, but no changes have been made since ABRA learned about the Jones case about 18 months ago.

She said the agency could enter into an agreement with a law-enforcement agency to conduct nationwide searches of criminal records for liquor applicants.

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