Huddles must stand trial on two charges Judge upholds counts on use of campaign funds.

October 03, 1991|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Evening Sun Staff

Public disclosure of a quietly arranged loan ended former Baltimore County Councilman Gary Huddles' political career in 1985, and questions about another quiet loan he used to pay stock market losses continue to dog the 52-year-old lawyer.

Huddles must stand trial in November on two counts of a three-count indictment that allege he stole $50,379 from his own leftover campaign funds in 1987. He paid back the money in 1989 and 1990, and all of the $90,000 fund was later returned to contributors or distributed to charities.

Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge Barbara Kerr Howe refused defense motions to dismiss charges of theft and misappropriation by a fiduciary against Huddles at the conclusion of a motions hearing in Towson Tuesday. The two charges carry maximum penalties of 20 and five years in prison, respectively.

Howe did dismiss a third, less serious count that charged Huddles with failing to channel all his campaign funds "through the hands of his treasurer."

She declared that "the language of that statute is so vague and ambiguous to be void for a criminal prosecution."

Howe added that she found no evidence that state prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli, who brought the case against Huddles, did so out of vindictiveness as Huddles' attorneys, Joshual Treem and Robert B. Schulman, had charged.

She noted, however, that the state's failure to indict Huddles' wife, Linda, whose name is also on the personal bank account into which the former councilman deposited the campaign money, could lend credence to that argument.

The trial, which may take weeks, is scheduled to begin Nov. 25.

Although Schulman said after the hearing that he was "very pleased" that the court dismissed the third charge, his and Treem's strenuous arguments that Huddles legally borrowed campaign funds and committed no crimes failed to convince the judge. The hearing was on the defense motion to dismiss all the charges.

Scott Nevin, senior assistant state prosecutor on the case, had no comment after the hearing.

By calling a string of elected officials as witnesses, the defense team had sought to show that state election laws do not specifically prohibit candidates from borrowing campaign money for personal use.

Because Huddles returned the money and distributed it according to state law governing the use of surplus campaign funds, he committed no crime, they argued.

One witness, Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, said that state election laws are aimed at getting full disclosure of how candidates raise and spend money. Once a contributor gives that money to a campaign, Steinberg argued, the candidate may do anything with it that is not specifically prohibited under state law.

The state legislature in 1976 repealed a list of accepted uses of campaign money and has since refused to put into law any specific approved uses for such money or specified prohibitions.

The result, the defense argued, is a law so vague that candidates may legally do almost anything with the money.

Prosecutor Nevin and Dolores Ridgell said their pursuit of Huddles is based on laws against outright theft, which, they argued, do apply.

Campaign money can be spent only on campaign expenses, Ridgell said.

Huddles raised the money at a fund-raiser in June 1985 near the end of his 16th year on the County Council representing the Pikesville-Randallstown area. His political career ended and his hopes of running for county executive in 1986 were dashed a few weeks later with the published reports of an unsecured $60,000 loan he had received through then-Old Court Savings and Loan President Jeffrey A. Levitt in 1982. Huddles had not made any payments on the loan, either principal or interest, for three years, though he quickly paid it back in full, plus $24,500 in interest, after the story became public.

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