A Montgomery County liquor control inspector offered to “take care” of alcohol violations if a restaurant owner paid him $1,000, police say.
Carlos Grajeda, 38, who has worked for the county for more than nine years, was arrested Feb. 16 and charged with two counts of extortion of a Wheaton restaurant owner, according to Montgomery County police and county records.
Mario Nieto, the owner of Matamoros Restaurant on University Boulevard, contacted police Jan. 30 shortly after he paid Grajeda $500. Grajeda told Nieto he would return in about two weeks for another $500 payment, according to police. Grajeda also allegedly promised to warn Nieto of future Department of Liquor Control inspections.
Nieto told detectives about a day ahead of time that Grajeda had arranged to come to the restaurant Thursday for the second payment, said police spokesman Capt. Paul Starks. Detectives saw Grajeda leaving the restaurant and arrested him a short time later. Police said they recovered the $500 given to Grajeda by Nieto in Grajeda’s jacket.
Department of Liquor Control Director George Griffin said Grajeda immediately was placed on administrative leave, pending an investigation by the department. He was released on $10,000 bond on Feb. 16.
“There’s nothing so far to indicate that this was anything other than recent activity,” Griffin said.
Nieto told police he received two reports for alcohol violations from December and January in which Matamoros employees served alcohol to underage customers and customers who were intoxicated, according to police.
According to county records, as of July 2010 Grajeda earned $62,110 per year, including overtime. Griffin would not comment on Grajeda’s current salary.
Nieto declined to comment on the case.
Other restaurant owners with liquor licenses said Grajeda was well known in Wheaton.
“He was a good guy,” said Jose Cardenas, owner of Jose’s Grill on Georgia Avenue. “In my experience with him, we never had a problem.”
Rosa Rodriguez, whose mother owns Los Cobanos Restaurant on Grandview Avenue, said Grajeda issued the restaurant two liquor violations shortly after it opened 13 years ago.
“We were surprised because having a job like that, you’d hope the person would not try to abuse it,” Rodriguez said.