Speaker Mitchell says investigation wreaks 'sheer hell'

December 06, 1990|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun Ann LoLordo and C. Fraser Smith of The Sun's metropolitan staff contributed to this article.

ANNAPOLIS -- House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, complained yesterday that he has been under investigation by the state's special prosecutor for nine months without knowing what he is accused of or when the probe might end.

As a result, the 54-year-old Eastern Shore lawmaker said, his family "has lived through nine months of sheer hell" and he has been unfairly subjected to "trial in the press."

But Stephen Montanarelli, the state prosecutor, said it is Mr. Mitchell who is discussing his case in the news media.

"And that's his privilege," Mr. Montanarelli said. "He's making statements to the press. We're not. He's making the charges, and I'm not going to answer. I have a code of ethics that I have to abide by."

Mr. Mitchell, just re-elected to his sixth four-year term in the House of Delegates and unanimously chosen for the highest post in the House for the fifth consecutive year, said he has cooperated fully since being notified he was under investigation by Mr. Montanarelli.

Mr. Montanarelli's office is responsible for investigating and prosecuting cases of corruption involving public officials.

"After nine months' worth of looking into it, if there is something there, they certainly could find something," an exasperated Mr. Mitchell said, after the Washington Post yesterday became the latest newspaper to publish a story indicating that he was under investigation. He described the story as "old news."

"I've given them every piece of paper they've asked for," he said of the investigation. "I've given them all my financial records. I've given them everything I know. After nine months, I just wish they'd conclude it."

He said that at least six months ago, he turned over personal bank records, deposit slips and tax returns, as well as materials from the real estate company that he and his son, Clayton Mitchell III, operate -- Mitchell Realty Inc.

He said he has never been interviewed by Mr. Montanarelli or by any investigators.

Mr. Mitchell said he learned he was under investigation in a telephone call from Mr. Montanarelli's office. That call, he said, came shortly after an article in The Evening Sun in February 1990 reported a land sale that his real estate firm brokered to millionaire developer and racetrack owner Mark R. Vogel.

Mr. Mitchell earned a $100,000 commission from the $1.7 million deal, paid by a group of businessmen that sold a 108-acre tract on Tangier Sound near Crisfield to Mr. Vogel.

But the speaker said yesterday that he did not know whether the state investigation had been prompted by the news story or by some complaint. When he asked why he was under investigation, he said, he was told that Mr. Montanarelli's office was not at liberty to say.

Asked what he thought prompted the investigation, Mr. Mitchell replied, "I think it was jealousy." He declined to explain the remark.

Mr. Mitchell said Mr. Montanarelli's office has revealed only that it dropped an investigation involving a complaint accusing him of misconduct regarding a reforestation bill that died April 9, the final night of the 1990 General Assembly session.

A heavily amended version of the bill, which would have required developers to plant trees in exchange for trees cut during development, was passed by the House in the waning minutes of the session, but it never made it to a receptive Senate before the midnight adjournment.

Supporters blamed Mr. Mitchell, a vocal opponent of the bill, for thwarting the will of the legislature. Minutes after the session ended, Senate Minority Leader John A. Cade, R-Anne Arundel, one of the bill's co-sponsors, angrily accused Mr. Mitchell of "malfeasance, misfeasance and all kinds of 'feasances' " and said he should be indicted.

Mr. Cade would not comment yesterday when asked if he filed the complaint.

However, Mr. Mitchell said Mr. Montanarelli's office "communicated to my attorney that there was no reason to continue the investigation because they found nothing wrong."

In any event, the state constitution's doctrine of legislative immunity most likely would have shielded Mr. Mitchell from any criminal prosecution by the state. Assistant Attorney General Robert A. Zarnoch, counsel to the General Assembly, said prosecutors would be barred from using as evidence anything a legislator might say or do in connection with a piece of legislation unless the legislator was charged with a federal crime.

In addition to owning farmland on the Eastern Shore and running his real estate business, Mr. Mitchell also operates a Radio Shack franchise on Kent Island and has extensive stock investments, according to financial disclosure forms on file with the state.

Unlike virtually every other member of the General Assembly, Mr. Mitchell is not an active political fund-raiser. In the most recent four-year election cycle, he raised a total of $4,320.32 -- a sum that largely reflects the fact that Mr. Mitchell has never had an opponent.

As House speaker, however, he might well have commanded substantial contributions from business interests whose bills are considered by the House.

By contrast, Mr. Mitchell's counterpart, state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, raised more than $400,000 during the same period.

Ann LoLordo and C. Fraser Smith of The Sun's metropolitan staff contributed to this article.

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