Neall accuses Sophocleus of falsifying donor reports

September 19, 1990|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Anne Arundel Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- Robert R. Neall, the Republican candidate for Anne Arundel County executive, accused his Democratic opponent yesterday of deliberately falsifying campaign finance reports in order to illegally "launder" cash contributions.

The allegations center on 29 senior citizens living at Glen Square, a county-owned public housing complex in Glen Burnie, who are listed as cash contributors to the campaign of Councilman Theodore J. Sophocleus, D-1st, the 51-year-old Linthicum pharmacist who is the Democrats' nominee for county executive.

At least five of the Glen Square contributors who were contacted by the Neall campaign Monday deny ever giving any money to Mr. Sophocleus. Mr. Neall said he became suspicious of the contributions Monday when he came across the name of William McGinnis, his 72-year-old maternal uncle, listed as a $25 contributor.

In addition, Mr. Neall and his staff said they've uncovered numerous other "irregularities" in Mr. Sophocleus' campaign finances, including a high percentage of cash contributions overall, and called for an investigation by state prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli.

About 29 percent of the contributions collected as of last month came from cash donations compared with 1.9 percent of the Neall campaign, said David Almy, Mr. Neall's campaign manager.

"It's not fair to senior citizens to use them to launder money," said Mr. Neall, 42, a Davidsonville resident. "This stuff makes me sick."

Mr. Sophocleus, who first learned of the Neall allegations from reporters late Monday, denied any wrongdoing but admitted that his all-volunteer campaign may have made errors of accounting.

The candidate agreed that few, if any, of the seniors who are listed as giving him $25 or $50 in cash for tickets to the April 22 bull roast at Kurtz Beach ever gave him money. Instead, many of them donated cakes or other baked goods to be given away as prizes in the "cake wheel," a spinning wheel with 25-cent-a-ticket chances.

The total money raised from the cake wheel was divided up as $25 contributions from the senior citizens, Mr. Sophocleus said.

"It's no great mystery: The seniors bake cakes, and we raffle them," he said. "If Mr. Neall thinks this is a laundering campaign, he's grasping at grass straws."

State elections officials declined to comment on the matter. However, one official said that cakes or other goods donated for a campaign raffle should be listed as "in-kind" contributions at a fair market value, not as cash.

However, "it's not unusual at all to see mistakes in the reports," cautioned Rebecca M. Babinec of the state board of election laws, which reviews records for about 3,000 campaigns each reporting period.

If an error has been made, Mr. Sophocleus said his campaign will correct the records.

James I. Cabezas, chief of investigations for the state prosecutor's office, acknowledged receiving the complaint from Mr. Neall yesterday and said his office will conduct an inquiry into the allegations "as expeditiously as possible."

Mr. Sophocleus' campaign treasurer is his daughter, Evangeline Taylor, 25, a housewife and part-time real estate agent who said yesterday that she never consulted election officials about the proper way to report the seniors' donations.

Mrs. Taylor said that she has been faulted by state officials in the past for allowing donors to give more cash than the $100 legal limit and for accepting more than the maximum $1,000 from individual contributors before the primary election but that both mistakes have been corrected.

Mr. Sophocleus said his high percentage of cash contributions is a result of his grass-roots appeal. Unlike the Neall campaign, which kicked off last spring with a $500-a-ticket fund-raiser, "we have a lot of blue-collar people who pay cash at the gate," Mr. Sophocleus said.

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