The state prosecutor yesterday charged Delegate Tony E. Fulton, a Baltimore Democrat, with illegally using state money to pay rent and salaries for his 1990 re-election campaign, pocketing $3,000 from his campaign treasury and violating campaign finance laws.
Dolores Ridgell, the assistant state prosecutor in charge of the case, said Mr. Fulton's attorney accepted a criminal summons yesterday ordering his client to appear for arraignment Nov. 18. Neither the legislator nor his lawyer could be reached for comment.
Ms. Ridgell said the yearlong investigation into Mr. Fulton's campaign was prompted by a Sept. 9, 1990 story in The Sun about spending by his re-election campaign and an independent political action committee he founded called CODE, which stands for Committee on Democratic Education.
"The election law violations stem from the issues that you raised, questions about the nature of CODE," and whether it was a true PAC or a committee raising money for Mr. Fulton, she said.
Last year, Mr. Fulton told The Sun in an interview that questions about money raised by CODE and his re-election committee give "the impression that we're doing something illegal or inappropriate. And that's not the case at all."
The 39-year-old legislator, first elected to the House of Delegates from the 40th District in 1986, is the second city legislator in the past three years to be accused of misusing campaign and legislative expense money. Former Delegate Nathaniel T. Oaks was convicted in November 1988 for charging travel expenses to both the state and his campaign fund.
House Majority Leader D. Bruce Poole, D-Hagerstown, said legislators are not likely to conduct their own investigation pending Mr. Fulton's trial. But he said delegates are "concerned about the way it looks," given the low esteem many voters have for elected officials these days.
"Any time you get something like this there's dismay," he said. "I don't care if the guy is your worst enemy, no one wants to see something like this."
In a six-count criminal information -- which is similar to an indictment -- prosecutors charged Mr. Fulton with "unlawfully, willfully and corruptly" paying a total of $2,920 in legislative expense money toward the salaries of two campaign workers, toward rent for a campaign headquarters on Madison Avenue and toward the cost of installing a telephone there.
Prosecutors said that the delegate used $525 of state money to pay George Van Hook "for legislative duties as administrative aide." Mr. Van Hook had described himself to The Sun as Mr. Fulton's campaign manager. He did not respond to a request for comment yesterday.
The document also said that Mr. Fulton's re-election committee wrote checks worth $1,000 each to three men the day after the September 1990 primary. The checks were cashed, but "the currency . . . was retained by the defendant and converted to his own use."
And Mr. Fulton was charged with three campaign law violations in connection with the operation of the Committee to Re-Elect Tony Fulton and CODE. Specifically, Mr. Fulton reported on campaign disclosure documents that from 1987 to 1989 he personally made $12,000 worth of in-kind contributions to CODE. The contributions took the form of free rent for the group's offices, then located in a row house owned by the legislator in the 2100 block of Bolton Street in Reservoir Hill. The amount was above the legal limit of $2,500 for individuals in any primary or general election.
The legislator was also accused of spending money on his campaign without funneling the money through his re-election committee's treasurer, as required by law. And the document said that CODE printed political advertisements, but illegally listed Mr. Fulton's re-election committee on the so-called "authority line" that must be printed on each ad.
If convicted of the two felony and four misdemeanor counts, Mr. Fulton could face more than 33 years in prison and fines of up to $3,000.
Jack Schwartz of the state attorney general's office said that, under state law, indicted legislators remain in office pending trial.
Although CODE claimed to be an independent political group -- and thus subject to more liberal contribution limits than a standard campaign committee -- Mr. Fulton was its founder and first president, his wife and campaign manager sat on its board of directors, and it donated thousands of dollars to his campaign.