Delegate knew she wrote a bad check, lawyer says Security deposit was drawn on account used by campaign of Hutchinson's uncle

August 04, 1993|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Staff Writer

State Del. Leslie E. Hutchinson knowingly gave her landlord a bad $1,500 check drawn on an empty bank account belonging to her uncle's campaign committee, her attorney confirmed yesterday.

But, lawyer Richard M. Karceski said, the Essex lawmaker never intended the check to be cashed.

"It was her understanding it was a closed account at the time she wrote the check," he said, but "it was never intended to be a check. It was never intended to be a negotiable instrument. It was a promise that the rent would be paid."

That was news to rental agent Charly Holmes, who accepted the check from Ms. Hutchinson in January. The check was a security deposit on an Annapolis home that Ms. Hutchinson rented during the 90-day session of the General Assembly.

"I would never have accepted it if I knew it was not a good check," Ms. Holmes said yesterday. "I assumed if an official of the state government gave you a check, it was a good check. No other official has given me a fake check," she said.

The dispute over the $1,500 check is the latest in a series of financial and legal problems for Ms. Hutchinson, 31, a first-term Democrat.

She has failed to appear in court seven times on traffic charges, missed deadlines for reporting her campaign finances and failed to make timely payments on her 1991 taxes and other debts. In June, she sent letters to state officials in which she noted her position as a legislator while soliciting business for her new party-planning company -- a possible violation of state ethics rules.

Asked for comment yesterday, Ms. Hutchinson said: "I have no intention of speaking to reporters. If you call me again, I will contact my attorney and have criminal proceedings filed against you."

Ms. Holmes, the proprietor of Chase Co. in Annapolis, said she agreed to hold Ms. Hutchinson's $1,500 check until her lease expired in April. She said she has extended that courtesy to other legislators to whom she has rented homes during the past five years.

The reason, she said, is that some legislators do not have enough money to cover a large security deposit.

Ms. Holmes said she routinely returns the uncashed check in April if the legislator has paid the utility bills and left the home in good condition. If the renter fails to do those things, Ms. Holmes said, she cashes the security deposit to cover the balance and returns the rest.

Ms. Hutchinson left the house in April with $800 worth of damage, according to Ms. Holmes, and about $2,000 in unpaid utility, rent and telephone bills. The charges for damage included $150 to repaint walls discolored by smoke, $22 for missing flatware, $175 for cleaning and $85 for a damaged lamp.

Ms. Holmes notified the state, which then paid $1,350 toward the utility, lodging and phone bills. The state had already paid more than $5,700 in rent and expenses for Ms. Hutchinson, exhausting her expense allowance for the 1993 session.

Ms. Holmes tried to cash Ms. Hutchinson's check to cover the damage and the remaining unpaid bills a month ago, but it bounced. She notified the delegate on July 26, and Ms. Hutchinson sent her two money orders totaling $1,500 the next day.

Prosecutors say Ms. Hutchinson thus cannot be charged with passing a bad check -- which is a felony for amounts over $300 -- because she paid the debt within 10 days of being notified that the check had bounced, as the law allows.

The check was drawn on an empty NationsBank campaign fund account that her uncle, former Baltimore County Executive Donald Hutchinson, opened for his unsuccessful campaign for U.S. Senate in 1986. His niece's name appeared on the check because she once served as his campaign treasurer.

Until contacted by a reporter yesterday, Mr. Hutchinson said, he did not know the account still existed.

Mr. Hutchinson, who is now president of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, said his niece served as his campaign treasurer from 1987 to 1991, when he selected another treasurer.

At that time, he closed what he thought was his only open "Hutchinson for Senate" account at NationsBank and transferred the money to another bank. But, he learned yesterday, a second "Hutchinson for Senate" account at NationsBank remained open, though it contained no money. It was on that account, he said, that his niece apparently wrote the $1,500 check.

Yesterday, Mr. Hutchinson formally closed that account, which had a balance of "minus $34." The account had a negative balance, he said, because the bank had been assessing a $1 service charge every month. Mr. Hutchinson said he believes that the inactive account has been empty for at least two years.

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