Metro

A Brown Bites Guide: The Shark Bar and Grille Bribery

By
Metro Editor
Monday, June 15, 2015

Updated Sept. 15 at 2:30 p.m.

A Superior Court judge approved the Aug. 25 sale of Shark Bar and Grill to Carlos Silva, owner of Silver Linings Restaurant, Inc., for $300,000. Gordon Fox, Rhode Island’s former speaker of the House, is serving a three-year prison sentence for federal charges including bribery for receiving $52,500 from the previous owners of Shark, Bahij Boutros. The following is a summary of Fox’s arrest and sentencing, as well as what this means for the fate of Shark, the popular place to grab drinks on Thayer.

How did this start?

Aug. 29, 2008: The Providence Board of Licenses, on which Fox served as vice chair, approved both Shark’s liquor license and its license to stay open until 2 a.m. on weekends. The University, the College Hill Neighborhood Association and about one-third of nearby business owners opposed the decision.

One of Shark’s owners, Raymond Hugh, dismissed the criticism. He pointed to Shanghai, another one of his restaurants on Thayer, which had a liquor license and hadn’t caused any problems.

Meanwhile, Fox was making history…

February 2010: Fox was elected speaker of the House for the Rhode Island General Assembly, making him the first black speaker as well as the first openly gay speaker in the history of the state.

…eventually for the wrong reasons

March 21-22, 2014: Federal and state law enforcement raided the Statehouse and Fox’s home to collect evidence regarding an “undisclosed matter.” The next day, Fox resigned as speaker of the House, though he vowed to serve out the remainder of his term as a representative.

March 3, 2015: Fox pleaded guilty to federal charges of committing wire fraud, filing a false tax return and accepting up to $52,500 in bribes. His plea deal included a three-year sentence in federal prison. It soon emerged that when Fox was vice chair of the Board of Licenses in 2008, Shark’s owners, Raymond Hugh and Bahij Buotros, offered him a bribe in exchange for his vote to grant the restaurant a liquor license. In an attempt to cover his tracks, Fox did not claim the illegal income on his taxes.

The accusations of wire fraud stemmed from Fox’s appropriation of $108,000 from campaign and political action committee funds for personal use between 2008 and 2014, an action that he lied about to the Board of Elections and did not claim on his taxes.

Why weren’t Shark’s owners charged with bribery?

The five-year federal statute of limitations for bribery has expired, but the state statute of limitations for bribery stands at 10 years.

Still, the fact that Fox pleaded guilty to bribery doesn’t necessarily point to the fact that Shark’s owners bribed him. It’s possible that Fox extorted the owners — meaning he could have told them he would block their licenses if they didn’t pay him — and he may have taken the plea deal for bribery specifically to avoid charges of extortion.

Fox also wasn’t the only reason for the approval of Shark’s two licenses. Two other members of the board also voted in favor of approving them, and the licenses were confirmed by the Department of Business Regulation.

March 16, 2015: Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza’s administration filed a petition to declare Shark’s licenses void.

March 30, 2015: The hearing for the petition to void Shark’s licenses was cut short by Rhode Island Superior Court Associate Justice Michael Silverstein, who granted temporary receivership to Shark’s owners, putting the establishment in the hands of designated lawyer Stephen Del Sesto. The city solicitor petitioned the Superior Court to grant relief from the decision.

April 24, 2015: Silverstein allowed the city to pursue its petition to void Shark’s license. But Silverstein required that the Board of Licenses must first receive permission from the court to vote to void the licenses, WPRI reported.

June 11, 2015: U.S. District Court Judge Mary Lisi accepted Fox’s plea deal for a three-year prison sentence.

July 7, 2015: Fox was required to report to prison and pay $109,000 for stolen campaign funds.

August 25, 2015: A Superior Court judge approved the sale of Shark to Silva, a friend of Boutros. 

And where does this leave Shark?

The new ownership depends on whether Silva can get a new liquor license, the Associated Press reported. So, at least for now, you can still grab a drink at Shark.