Debts and disorder beset delegate hutchinson

July 19, 1993|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Staff Writer Staff writer Larry Carson contributed to this article.

For someone charged with handling affairs of state, Delegate Leslie E. Hutchinson of Essex has an awfully hard time keeping her own affairs in order. Consider:

* She still owes state income taxes from 1991.

* She so routinely fails to pay her bills in Annapolis that exasperated creditors have tried billing the state.

* She left her job at the Baltimore County Police Department in 1992 after learning she faced disciplinary action for driving on a suspended license and failing to make good quickly on a bad check.

* She has yet to file a state campaign finance report due, by law, last November.

* And, as reported last week, she has been cited five times in the last three years for traffic violations -- including driving without insurance -- and has failed to show up for trial seven times.

"It's sort of embarrassing to the legislature, as well as to me," House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. said last week of Delegate Hutchinson's financial troubles in Annapolis.

"This is the first time I've had as many complaints about anyone," Mr. Mitchell said, adding the situation "has gotten a little out of hand."

Ms. Hutchinson, a 31-year-old Democrat, did not return repeated phone calls to her home and office Friday and over the weekend. Her grandmother, with whom she lives, said that Ms. Hutchinson was in town and had received messages from The Sun asking for comment for this article but that she was not available.

In previous interviews, the first-term delegate has tearfully portrayed herself as a single mother who has trouble making ends meet on her $28,000 legislative salary and the $8,460 expense allowance she receives from the state. She has a 10-year-old son.

But she does not appear to have taken any steps to economize while living in Annapolis during the annual 90-day session of the General Assembly.

In fact, by making scores of long-distance phone calls and renting expensive houses and hotel rooms, she has run up bills beyond what the state will pay -- and stuck one landlord and an Annapolis hotel with her debts.

During this year's session, Ms. Hutchinson rented a house near the water in Annapolis' expensive historic district, a short jaunt from the State House.

While there, she ran up more than $1,500 in utility and long-distance phone bills, some of which remain unpaid. Her taxpayer-subsidized phone bills included dozens of calls to Washington, D.C., Orlando, Fla., Beverly Hills, Calif., New York City and even Argentina.

The company that managed the rental sent several strongly worded letters to Ms. Hutchinson urging her to pay those mounting bills, as required by her lease.

It also put her on notice that neighbors had complained about parties and litter at the house. "Any further complaints will result in the owner asking you to vacate," one letter said.

Owes utility bills

To date, Ms. Hutchinson still owes about $1,300 for utilities, phone and rent -- plus $300 for damaging items inside the house, according to owners Richard and Erica Lowery.

Mr. Lowery said that when the couple returned to their home this spring, they found broken dishes and glasses, ruined linens and some missing items. "She kept our house like a pigsty," Mr. Lowery said.

"I am going to make a claim against the state if this delegate is not going to pay her bill," he said.

He will not be successful with such a claim, predicted Speaker Mitchell, because his lease was with Ms. Hutchinson personally.

Mr. Mitchell, a Kent County Democrat, said he has encouraged Ms. Hutchinson to be "responsible," but "there's not much I can do."

During a legislative session, Maryland's 188 lawmakers may be reimbursed up to a certain amount for their food and lodging costs. In 1993, for example, the absolute limit for each lawmaker was $94 a day for 90 days, for the maximum of $8,460.

Legislators typically pay their bills and then seek reimbursement from the state. Ms. Hutchinson, however, has let many of her bills pile up until her frustrated creditors ask the speaker or the legislative accounting office for help.

In 1991, for example, she stayed at the Loews Annapolis Hotel, which has a four-diamond rating from the American Automobile Association. She still owes the hotel $458 for items such as food, laundry service and phone calls, hotel spokeswoman Diana Kaiser confirmed last week.

During a special session in September of that year, she paid her $85 bill at the Annapolis Marriott Waterfront Hotel with an invalid credit card, according to records submitted by the hotel. Marriott spent months trying to get Ms. Hutchinson to pay. Finally, nine months after her one-day stay, the state agreed to cover the bill.

State seeks tax payment

One of Ms. Hutchinson's creditors is the state of Maryland itself.

According to court records, the state obtained a judgment against her on June 9, 1992, for $238 in unpaid income taxes, interest and penalties from 1991. The state is still trying to collect that money, according to court records and Marvin Bond, a spokesman for the comptroller's office.

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