Ex-delegate faces theft charges in phone scheme

March 08, 1991|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- Former state Delegate Sylvania W. Woods of Prince George's County was formally charged yesterday with engaging in "a common scheme to steal" more than $46,000 from three cellular telephone companies and at least $12,000 from his own re-election committee.

Mr. Woods, the 37-year-old son of a county District Court judge and former chairman of the county's 21-member House delegation, also was charged with misconduct in office in a three-count criminal information that was filed in Anne Arundel Circuit Court.

The charges were filed yesterday morning by the state prosecutor, whose office is responsible for investigating wrongdoing by state officials.

If convicted of the two felony theft charges, Mr. Woods could face up to 30 years in prison and $2,000 in fines.

Mr. Woods abruptly resigned his General Assembly seat Jan. 29 without any formal explanation. Just days before, he had been sworn in to a fourth four-year term in the House of Delegates.

Herman Dawson, Mr. Woods' lawyer, said he had not discussed the charges with his client.

"In terms of what my client would or would not do, I can't say," Mr. Dawson said.

State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli said Mr. Woods "has agreed to make himself available to the Maryland State Police" in the next few days to be served with the criminal information and to be fingerprinted and processed.

Mr. Woods is scheduled to be arraigned March 25 in Anne Arundel Circuit Court.

"He's not being arrested. We don't expect this man to flee," said James I. Cabezas, chief investigator for the state prosecutor. "In all fairness, I should tell you he has been cooperative with this investigation."

Mr. Montanarelli said yesterday's charges stemmed from a nine-month investigation by his office.

According to Annapolis sources familiar with the probe, Mr. Montanarelli will allege that bogus applications for cellular telephone equipment and air time were submitted to three companies for which Mr.Woods worked as a salesman, Cellular One, GTE Mobile Communications Inc. and Bell Atlantic Mobile Systems Inc. Commissions allegedly ranged from $75 to $150 per transaction.

Among those listed on the applications as purchasers were colleagues of Mr. Woods' in the General Assembly who neither requested nor received the equipment or air time, the sources said.

The alleged scheme occurred between March 1987 and Jan. 24, 1991, according to the criminal information.

The charge against Mr. Woods of misconduct in office -- "perverting the trust reposed in him" -- stems from evidence that telephone companies were told that he had authority as a delegate to make contractual agreements for the state, the sources indicated.

Mary F. Atwell, head of the General Assembly's accounting office, said bills for cellular telephone service arrived at the General Assembly's mail room "not directed to anyone in particular." The bills were passed to various offices until they were ultimately turned over to Mr. Montanarelli's office unpaid, she said.

The General Assembly has a policy against paying for mobile telephones, Ms. Atwell said.

The prosecutor also alleged that Mr. Woods stole more than $12,000from the Committee to Re-Elect Sylvania Woods Jr. between December 1989 and Jan. 25, 1991.

A quick review of Mr. Woods' campaign finance reports show certain discrepancies. In an August 31, 1990 report, for instance, Mr. Woods reported transferring $1,500 to the24th District Democratic Alliance Coalition, a campaign organization for the four incumbent state legislators in his district. But the corresponding report for the coalition does not show the receipt of any funds from Mr. Woods' campaign, and the subsequent Oct. 26 report lists the receipt of only $1,000.

Similarly, Mr. Woods' Oct. 26 report shows a $350 transfer to Ploughman & Fishermen of Prince George's County, a fund-raising arm of the county Democratic Central Committee. But the committee's reports do not show a corresponding transfer in of funds from Mr. Woods' committee.

News of the charges against the young former delegate was greeted with sadness by his former State House colleagues, many of whom praised his performance as a delegate and spoke warmly of his easygoing personality.

"We're proud of the job he did in Annapolis," said Delegate Joseph F. Vallario Sr., D-Prince George's, who succeeded Mr. Woods as chairman of the House delegation. "And we're saddened by his most recent problems."

A week after his resignation, the county's House delegation presented Mr. Woods with a plaque showing their appreciation.

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