Thursday, January 11, 2001

A Prince George’s County, Md., prosecutor who was working to open a strip club connected with a New York City crime family violated a Maryland law but will likely escape any penalty because of a loophole, officials told The Washington Times.

Roland Lee resigned Friday from his position as an assistant state’s attorney in Prince George’s County after his boss learned of his plans in The Times.

According to Maryland law, “the deputy state’s attorneys and assistant state’s attorneys may not engage in the private practice of law” in Prince George’s County except for pro bono work through the county bar foundation.

Scores, a topless dancing club in Manhattan that has been tied to the Gambino crime family and organized crime figure John A. Gotti Jr., wants to take over the local nude dancing market with a club near Eighth and F streets NW, according to a marketing plan obtained by The Times.

Mr. Lee is listed as an attorney who would be the president of the club, and “his field of expertise will be utilized in this venture via his direct responsibility for the overall business management structure and personnel,” according to the marketing plan.

“That means he’s practicing law privately,” said Maryland State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli. “If you’re listed as an attorney for a client or for a transaction, then that’s a violation. That’s private practice.”

Montgomery County State’s Attorney Douglas F. Gansler said Mr. Lee’s work for Scores “sounds like it went far beyond the bounds of what’s allowed.”

“It sounds like he actively engaged in law activity, which is strictly proscribed in the law,” Mr. Gansler said.

“Whether or not it’s illegal, it’s unseemly, and it’s not something a prosecutor should be doing,” Mr. Gansler added. “You don’t want one of your employees running a strip joint.”

Mr. Lee was the main author of the plan and circulated it privately among city officials and others an indication he’s acting as an attorney for Scores, according to sources familiar with the case.

A Prince George’s County official, who is also an attorney, agreed, saying the description of Mr. Lee’s duties and use of the word “attorney” in the Scores’ marketing plan qualifies as a violation.

A former state’s attorney from Baltimore said the work for Scores shows, at the very least, a lack of judgment.

“A prosecutor representing a strip club is not the kind of thing you want to see,” said the former prosecutor. “What was he thinking? That’s ridiculous.”

Mr. Lee has denied violating any law, telling The Times, “I am in compliance with all laws.”

Mr. Lee also denied any knowledge of the marketing plan and would not confirm he was working on behalf of Scores.

Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Jack Johnson said he believed Mr. Lee wanted to open the club rather than serve as its legal representative.

“It appeared he wanted to enter into a business venture. I did not think he was practicing law,” Mr. Johnson said. “The documents I saw really did not indicate to me it was practicing law.

“My concern was limited to what I read in the paper that he was associated with the nightclub and your paper indicated the club had ties to the Gotti family,” Mr. Johnson added. “We talked about the appropriateness of a state’s attorney in that role. We mutually decided that he resign.”

Despite Mr. Lee’s apparent violation, Mr. Montanarelli said his Office of the Maryland State Prosecutor has no jurisdiction over the matter.

Because an assistant state’s attorney is not elected, Mr. Lee does not qualify as a “public official” under Maryland code, Mr. Montanarelli said.

“I know of no criminal sanctions” he said. “The statute has no penalties. It’s up to the state’s attorney to take action.”

Mr. Lee also could face professional disciplinary consequences, legal sources told The Times.

The Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission handles investigations of wrongdoing and legal violations by lawyers.

Melvin Hirshman, who investigates such matters as the commission’s bar counsel, said he is aware of Mr. Lee’s situation but could not comment on the matter.

Such investigations are sparked by complaints from a lawyer’s client, other lawyers, judges, calls to the commission or newspaper articles, Mr. Hirshman said.

Mr. Lee’s actions must constitute an ethical violation, rather than a violation of personnel policy, to warrant an investigation, he said.

If an investigation shows Mr. Lee committed an offense, he could face penalties ranging from a private or public reprimand to a license suspension or even disbarment.

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