Future of Sonar in Doubt: Shuttered Club’s New Ownership May Involve Milton Tillman III

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, July 18, 2012

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Even before Baltimore’s Sonar nightclub suddenly closed after its July 8 show (“Death of a Rock and Roll Club,” Noise, July 9, 2012), plans for its future had already been put in place, public records show.

On June 27, the Baltimore City Liquor License Board received an application to transfer Sonar’s liquor license to Eagle Entertainment LLC, which disclosed in its application papers that it had put up a $10,000 down payment on the $65,000 price tag for the license, with the balance due at closing. The payee, Daniel McIntosh, would be the majority owner of Sonar’s current license. Whether that transaction will actually take place is unclear, though, since the company’s attorney, Neal Janey, told City Paper on July 16 that the application will be withdrawn and a new one will be submitted instead, possibly involving a separate company.

The application’s resubmission would likely delay the potential reopening of the club, which was going to take time and significant investment in any event, given what online photographs of the club last show—damage to the club’s bathroom, at the very least, and a sign announcing a “liquidation sale” of its contents.

Eagle Entertainment’s June 27 liquor-board application lists Brian L. Winfield as the anticipated licensee. Winfield is described in the application as an 80-percent stockholder in the company, with the other 20 percent held by Milton Tillman III.

Tillman III is the son and business partner of Baltimore bail bondsman and real-estate investor Milton Tillman Jr., a three-time federal convict who is currently serving a 51-month prison term for tax-and-insurance fraud and owes $120,000 in restitution. Tillman III was charged in the same 2010 indictment as his father (“Milton Tillman and Son Indicted in Bailbonds Conspiracy,” The News Hole, March 17, 2010) , but the charges against him were dismissed last year as part of a deal in which he pleaded guilty to failing to file tax returns and received five yeas of probation and a $12,500 restitution order, which he still owes, according to court records.

In 2000, Tillman III survived a gunshot wound after a botched drug deal spawned a violent dispute that left two other men dead, according to court records of the successful federal prosecution of the drug organization involved in the incident. During 2002 court proceedings in the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Luna stood up in court and called Tillman Jr. “one of the most notorious drug dealers in Baltimore City history,” adding that “there is no question that Mr. Tillman [III]’s father is a reputed drug dealer, a violent type of guy” (“Grave Accusations,” Mobtown Beat, April 23, 2008). Luna’s lifeless body was found face down in a Pennsylvania stream in 2003, a mysterious and controversial death that continues to haunt law enforcers.

Winfield, who has faced charges of petty theft and bouncing checks, has a history of business dealings with the Tillmans, including at Lucky’s Tavern at 1601 N. Milton Ave., a Tillman-owned property that has been in the Tillman family for years. In 2009, Winfield filed to take over Lucky’s liquor license (“Creative Licensing,” Mobtown Beat, April 9, 2008).

In the liquor-license transfer application for Sonar, Winfield says he worked in the mortgage business until 2009, when he went to work for the Baltimore City Department of Finance until Aug. 2010. Since 2006, according to the application, he’s also worked for Baltimore Winfield Showcase, which its website describes as a vending-machine and catering-equipment rental business.

Calls to Winfield and the attorney who filed the liquor-license application, Melvin Kodenski, were not returned. Tillman III, though, spoke briefly to CP on July 12, confirming that he’s “just a stakeholder” in Eagle Entertainment, and that “I’m not going on the license at all.” He then cut short the conversation, saying he wanted his lawyer, Neal Janey, to handle the interview. Later that day, Janey said that Tillman III “is not a 20-percent owner,” and that “the information in that application is incorrect.” Asked if Tillman III would have any involvement at all in the proposed club, Janey said “the only possible involvement would be as a contingent guarantor” on Eagle Entertainment’s debt.

On July 16, Janey informed CP that “the application will be withdrawn; a new application will be filed” that reflects that Tillman III “will have no interest in the business,” though he allowed that it is “still possible” that Tillman III will be a contingent guarantor. “It will probably even be a different LLC [than Eagle Entertainment] that will be involved in the transaction now.”

Under McIntosh, Sonar is alleged to have played a role in a massive, cross-country marijuana conspiracy, currently being prosecuted by the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office (“Feds Namedrop Baltimore’s Sonar Nightclub in New Pot-Conspiracy Indictment,” The News Hole, April 12, 2012). McIntosh is one of 16 people charged in the case, and, unlike most of his alleged co-conspirators, has not pleaded guilty; he is scheduled for trial in September. Baltimore developer Jeremy Landsman (“Smoked Out,” Mobtown Beat, February 29, 2012), a stakeholder in the LLC that owns Sonar’s building, pleaded guilty to his part in the conspiracy in June. In his plea, he admits that a number of his property-owning LLCs—including the one that owns the Hampden property where another McIntosh business, McCabe’s Tavern, is located—also played a role in the conspiracy.

Since shortly after Sonar closed July 8, McIntosh has been telling CP that he intends to post a prepared statement online to explain his ordeal with the club, including why it shut down, and that he would grant an interview about the situation once he had done so. As of press time, the statement had not been posted on Sonar’s website or Facebook page, and McIntosh has not responded to CP’s emails since July 13.

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