McLean's Dubious Doings

December 04, 1993

What a difference two years make.

December 4, 1991, was a chilly, overcast day. But for Jacqueline F. McLean it was a glowing hour of triumph. Well-wishers packed the War Memorial Building, as the two-term councilwoman was sworn in as Baltimore's elected comptroller.

Choirs sang. An ROTC drill unit did its lengthy routine. There were whispers that Ms. McLean's new No. 3 job in the municipal government would facilitate her ascendancy to the mayor's office. Almost anything seemed possible.

Some found it odd, though, that just before Ms. McLean was to be sworn in, her husband abruptly excused himself and rushed off the dais. "A previous business commitment," it was explained.

What few knew at the time was that James and Jackie McLean's business empire was unraveling.

Their travel agency, which at its peak had 32 offices in four states and sold $36 million a year in airline tickets, was mired in law suits and teetering on the brink of a financial disaster. To keep the firm together, the McLeans borrowed heavily, apparently overextending themselves. Four months ago, their agency was finally taken over by a major East Coast travel firm after federal liens seeking $193,031 in unpaid taxes were issued.

Worse was yet to come. As reporters JoAnna Daemmrich and Kim Clark outline in The Sun today, a wide-ranging grand jury probe has been started into Ms. McLean's actions as the city's top elected fiscal official.

Board of Estimate records indicate she introduced an emergency agreement in October under which the city health department would lease an office building in Federal Hill. What she seems to have concealed was that the property in question belonged to Ms. McLean and her husband.

The board routinely approved the million-dollar deal. But City Council President Mary Pat Clarke became worried and had her staff investigate. After the McLean ownership was uncovered, board approval of the lease agreement was rescinded.

Another McLean action is raising questions, too. On Nov. 23, the comptroller launched a fierce one-woman crusade on Wall Street against Education Alternatives Inc. She accused the operator of several privatized public schools in Baltimore of a number of "unethical" practices. As a result, the high-flying company's stock took a nosedive. That benefited certain investors and hurt others, raising the possibility of stock manipulation.

The McLean case is a grave matter in a city that has been virtually untainted by official wrongdoing in recent years. Baltimore's reputation may be badly damaged unless the accusations are quickly investigated and resolved.

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