Neall charges campaign fraud by rival candidate VTC Sophocleus

September 19, 1990|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Evening Sun Staff

The race for Anne Arundel County executive has taken a bitter turn, complete with allegations of campaign fraud, an investigation and two equally outraged candidates.

State prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli will investigate allegations that Democratic nominee Theodore J. Sophocleus violated campaign finance laws by reporting contributions from people who did not make them.

The charge was made by Robert R. Neall, Sophocleus' Republican opponent in the Nov. 6 general election.

Montanarelli said his office routinely answers such a complaint "unless it's totally frivolous." He said he did not know when the inquiry would be completed.

Both Neall and Sophocleus exchanged volleys yesterday. Sophocleus vehemently denied any wrongdoing and accused Neall of playing dirty politics. Neall, however, accused Sophocleus of using the elderly to perpetrate a campaign fraud.

Neall said he discovered several irregularities when he reviewed his opponent's campaign finance reports this week. Neall was looking to see how much money Sophocleus received from a Baltimore County developer whom Sophocleus allegedly helped once while he served on the County Council.

Neall said he discovered that his uncle, William McGinnis, who lives in a senior citizens' housing project on a disability pension, was listed as buying a $25 ticket to a Sophocleus fund-raiser last April.

Neall and his brother-in-law, Tim Murnane, a candidate for county state's attorney, visited McGinnis' home at Glen Square in Glen Burnie. Neall said his uncle and four other Glen Square residents who appeared on the campaign report all denied buying the tickets.

Sophocleus, however, accused Neall of intimidating the elderly, some of whom apparently believed Murnane was the state's attorney. Neall and Murnane both scoffed at those allegations and denied any attempt to portray Murnane as a prosecutor conducting an investigation.

Sophocleus admitted that he often reports that senior citizens bought $25 tickets to fund-raisers although they did not pay with money. They contributed as a group, he said, by donating cakes that are used as prizes for a wheel of fortune game at the event.

Sophocleus' treasurer, Evangeline Taylor, explained that a player will bet a quarter on a number at the so-called cake wheel. If the number hits, the player wins a cake. The money raised from the wheel game is divided into $25 portions, and the senior citizens who attended the event are recorded as having purchased $25 tickets, she said.

Four Glen Burnie and Pasadena residents interviewed yesterday said they did not buy a $25 ticket to a Sophocleus fund-raiser, although the candidate reported them as doing so. But all four residents said they had attended with free tickets and some said they brought cakes.

"I will make two or three cakes," said Olive Marshall, 78, a Glen Square community leader. "I got a free ticket from Ted."

A bus load of senior citizens, some attracted by the prospect of an outing and free food, attended a Sophocleus fund-raiser with free tickets, she said.

Marshall said Neall and Murnane upset several Glen Square residents when they visited. "When you mention you're with the state's attorney's office -- it's a wonder you didn't have any heart attacks in here."

Taylor said she had not asked an attorney about the campaign's method of reporting cake-wheel proceeds as ticket sales.

When told about the cake wheel, Elizabeth Nilson, the assistant attorney general for the state board of elections, said, "It is in a sense misleading but not necessarily illegal."

She added, "It's OK to let someone come for free. What you really shouldn't do is put them down for contributions they haven't made. The real violation would be hiding a contribution that somebody had made."

The Neall camp questioned whether Sophocleus attempted to hide a large contribution by breaking it down into smaller amounts and reporting those amounts as coming from a number of non-contributors.

"The possibility exists that money has been laundered," said David Almy, Neall's campaign manager.

Neall also asked Montanarelli to see if Sophocleus violated laws limiting the amounts of certain contributions. He asked if his opponent exceeded the limit on the amount of money raised from cake wheels and whether he maintained adequate raffle records.

A 1989 Sophocleus campaign report contains several apparent violations of a law limiting a contributor from giving more than $100 in cash. Taylor said she learned this year that campaigns must take checks for amounts larger than $100.

She also said an elections employee told her how to properly handle individual contributions exceeding the $1,000 limit, and she complied.

Sophocleus said his campaign reports "are in great shape. I think they're 99.8 percent correct."

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