Investigators from the New York Inspector General's office carried out computers and boxes of records after raiding a State Liquor Authority office in Harlem.
“We believe employees are fast-tracking liquor licenses in exchange for gratuities, at the expense of legitimate applicants,” said First Deputy Inspector General Kelly Donovan.
Wednesday's raid on the fourth-floor office at 317 Lenox Ave. came after more than a yearlong probe by the Inspector General's office.
“Our goal is to level the playing field and make the State Liquor Authority more responsive to the community,” Donovan said.
Investigators said that despite a lag time of six to eight months to process applications, some licenses had been awarded in just 11 days.
The agency's staff of 24 employees reviewed applications and issued licenses for bars and restaurants in New York City, Long Island and Westchester. The office also regulated 65 percent of some 70,000 operating licenses and permits across the state.
Restaurant and bar owners had complained to the Inspector General's office that state employees at the Harlem office were accepting bribes to expedite licenses.
Gov. David Paterson's office issued a statement late Wednesday supporting the Inspector General's efforts and vowing to work with the State Liquor Authority to rebuild the agency. A spokesman for the agency says it is cooperating with the probe.
No arrests were made. The Inspector General's office says Manhattan prosecutors are expected to present evidence to a grand jury.
The investigation also found that Liquor Authority employees did not time-stamp when applications were received and may not have handled them chronologically.
The agency's computer database lacked security, and investigators said anyone could log on and make changes to applications. And dozens of licenses were awarded without required criminal background or proof of citizenship checks.
The Inspector General had trained the agency's staff in 2005 and 2007, stressing that it was illegal to accept bribes or gratuities to expedite license applications.
New York's Alcoholic Beverage Control law created the State Liquor Authority in 1934, shortly after the 21st Amendment repealed Prohibition.
The agency is run by a three-member board appointed by the governor, with the consent of the state Senate.
Gov. George Pataki appointed chairman Daniel Boyle and Noreen Healey as commissioners in 2006. Jeanique Greene was appointed commissioner in June 2008 by Gov. Paterson.
Greene had been Paterson's legislative director when he was Senate deputy minority leader.