Schmoke urges inquiry into McLean lease vote

December 05, 1993|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

The mayor of Baltimore is requesting an inquiry to determine whether Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean violated the city ethics law by failing to reveal that she and her husband owned a building up for lease to the Health Department.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday that he will ask the city's ethics board to investigate the propriety of a million-dollar deal that slipped past the Board of Estimates in late October.

The deal was rescinded by top city officials a month later.

When the city agreed to lease the former headquarters of Four Seas & Seven Winds Inc. -- the defunct travel agency that Mrs. McLean built with her husband, James -- the McLeans were trying to sell the building to pay business debts.

Mrs. McLean has said that she did not reveal the Four Seas connection to the mayor, City Council president and other board members because she considered the building sold to prominent developer Otis Warren Jr. She could not be reached for further comment yesterday.

Mr. Schmoke reiterated his concern over Mrs. McLean's failure to disclose her interest in the Federal Hill building. The deal would have shifted the city's geriatric nursing service from rent-free offices at Montebello Rehabilitation Hospital to 12 W. Montgomery St., one of the last assets of the McLeans' travel business. The 10-year lease called for annual rent of more than $106,000.

Mrs. McLean, who oversees the city's Real Estate Department, introduced the lease proposal to the board Oct. 27 and voted for it, with the rest of the five-member board.

"It just raises such an appearance of a conflict of interest," Mr. Schmoke said.

Mr. McLean owns a 98 percent interest in the building; Mrs. McLean owns the rest.

Meanwhile, Maryland's special prosecutor is investigating allegations of corrupt conduct, which could range from criminal charges of misconduct to bribery. An investigator and an accountant working for State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli were working over the weekend on the probe.

Alan R. Yuspeh, an attorney who chairs the ethics board, said, "We'll do a detailed investigation of all the facts surrounding Mrs. McLean's action. . . . We'll have to determine what property interest did she or her husband have, what actions did she take as a public official and what are the connections between the two."

The ethics board is fact-finding group, but its report could lead to a misdemeanor charge under the city code subject to a maximum fine of $1,000 or a maximum jail term of one year.

Council President Mary Pat Clarke said yesterday that the need for an ethics review "goes without saying." But she called the action "very late in the day."

Mrs. Clarke discovered the property belonged to the McLeans half an hour after the lease was approved. She checked property records to determine that the address listed on the lease -- 11 W. Hughes St. -- actually was the back of the Four Seas' building.

She immediately reversed her vote, the first time she had done so. She also alerted a mayoral aide, who apparently did not pass on the information.

Mr. Schmoke learned weeks later that the building still was owned by Four Seas, rather than by Mr. Warren's partnership, which was named on the lease.

This is the first review by the ethics board in five years.

In December 1988, Mayor Schmoke asked the panel to examine whether public works employees acted improperly by asking firms doing business with the city to contribute money for a Christmas party. The board concluded that the employees may have been guilty of poor judgment, but were not motivated by personal gain.

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