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Latest Twist in Madison Square Garden Battle: Private Detective Follows State Liquor Authority Investigator

The bizarre and bitter battle between Madison Square Garden and the State Liquor Authority now includes a bit of swashbuckling.

The stadium hired a private detective to tail an SLA investigator, the latest and strangest twist in the ongoing fight in which Garden boss James Dolan has barred hundreds of lawyers working for firms involved in disputes with the Garden to attend events at their venues.

“Trying to intimidate the regulatory agency through a private investigator, who of all things was arrested for carrying an illegal weapon, is outrageous,” said state Sen. Brad Holyman-Sigal (D-Manhattan). “It’s a disaster of his own making.”

The Garden, in a dizzying 48-page document filed in Manhattan Supreme Court on Wednesday, accused SLA investigator Charles Stravelle of “behaving erratically” in the agency’s investigation into the director’s ban. MSG Entertainment executive Dolan.

“The entire investigation was a sham,” the Garden alleged. “The charges against MSG were pre-arranged… SLA intended to bring charges from the beginning, even before MSG had produced any documents and before SLA spoke to any witnesses.”

The agency had threatened to suspend liquor sales at MSG as the fight escalated, and Dolan responded in court documents last weekend. The SLA decision would also affect two other Dolan properties, Beacon Theater and Radio City Music Hall.

“While others who have been subjected to this harassment may have been forced into submission or silence, we are taking a stand,” Dolan said last weekend.

State liquor regulators have opened an investigation to determine whether Dolan’s lawyer’s ban violates New York law that requires businesses with liquor licenses to admit to the general public.

Stravalle, a retired police captain, told the New York Times that he noticed the line and saw the driver of the car parked outside his Queens home with a camera. He declined to comment Friday, citing an ongoing investigation.

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The Garden defended the hiring of a licensed private investigator as “common practice in defending against allegations, even if they are unfounded.” And a statement from MSG co-counsel Jim Walden emphasized the Garden’s intent to keep fighting.

“MSG didn’t start this,” he said. “What is happening at the SLA is simply inappropriate, it is bureaucracy out of control… We will expose the misconduct of the SLA through the legal tools we have to defend MSG.”

The latest revelation came as the state Senate tried to revoke the Garden’s $43 million annual property tax break.

“Why are we throwing away $43 million every year to line the pockets of executives at Madison Square Garden?” Holyman-Sigal asked. “The most important issue before us is the fact that Madison Square Garden is ripping off New York taxpayers and laughing all the way to the bank.”

The state’s attorney general, Letitia James, who was marching in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, declined to comment on the increasingly ugly dispute: “As you know, they are in the middle of litigation.”

Last week, Dolan criticized the SLA as a “gangster-like government organization” and vowed to fight the agency’s threat to liquidate the arena’s liquor license. Stravelle informed Long Island police about the Garden tail, confirmed in MSG’s court filing.

The ongoing angst was sparked when MSG blocked lawyers from entering the building, using facial recognition technology to enforce its unprecedented policy.

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