Auditors find more checks

December 23, 1993|By JoAnna Daemmrich and Kim Clark | JoAnna Daemmrich and Kim Clark,Staff Writers

Baltimore city auditors discovered yesterday that at least seven more checks went to the same bank account used to deposit regular payments to a mystery worker hired by Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean.

Checks totaling a little more than $2,000 for "research" and "public relations" were made out to Resources for Women, an apparently fictitious group that has the same address as the Northwest Baltimore hair salon owned by the comptroller's sister and brother-in-law.

"A full-scale search is under way to try to determine if more of these checks exist," said City Solicitor Neal M. Janey.

Each of the checks found so far was for less than $500, Mr. Janey said, and came from a discretionary account in the comptroller's office. A complete audit of the amount of money the city paid to Resources for Women is expected to be RTC completed by early next week.

The review was prompted by revelations that Mrs. McLean paid a woman named Michele D. McCloud as much as $21.73 an hour for the past 15 months for public relations work that apparently was never done, the city solicitor said.

More than $22,000 paid to the mysterious employee was deposited in two checking accounts for Resources for Women. Mrs. McLean personally opened the first of the accounts at the same bank used by Network 2000, a women's organization for which she serves as treasurer.

Three people had access to the first account -- the comptroller, Ms. McCloud and Carolyn Burridge, a well-known lobbyist and ** co-founder of Network 2000, who says her name was forged.

The account also has a Social Security number identical to that of Mrs. McLean's 21-year-old daughter, Michelle D. McLean. The contact number is the comptroller's direct telephone line at Baltimore City Hall.

City payment orders made out to Michele McCloud have the same Social Security number except for one digit and were also mailed to Salon Me'Chelle, the beauty parlor on Park Heights Avenue run by the comptroller's sister, Wynnona Fountain.

Mrs. McLean opened the account in October 1992, just a week after the Board of Estimates approved hiring the public relations aide. Three months later, a second checking account for Resources for Women was opened at the same bank with just the names of Ms. McCloud and Ms. Burridge.

It appears the seven additional city checks were deposited into that account.

Maryland's special prosecutor is looking into the McCloud contract, as well as allegations that the comptroller steered a city lease to a Federal Hill building she owns with her husband. The deal would have boosted the value of the building, which was for sale, by at least $200,000.

Yesterday, Ms. Fountain and her husband, Virgil Moore, were among four witnesses who appeared before a Baltimore grand jury.

The couple ignored questions from reporters and raced hand-in-hand out of the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr.Courthouse in downtown Baltimore at noon.

Mrs. McLean's brother-in-law previously told a reporter from The Sun that he knew a Michele McCloud. She uses the two-story hair parlor after hours to do research and writing, he said.

Marie E. Henderson, who handles public relations for the comptroller and was supposed to be the supervisor of Ms. McCloud, also testified before the grand jury.

Both she and Deputy Comptroller Shirley A. Williams have said they have never met a Ms. McCloud and know of no work that she ever produced.

Earlier this week, Mrs. McLean began an indefinite, paid leave of absence. Ms. Williams, who took over, said there was "no widespread involvement" by her or other staff members in the controversial contracts that prompted the comptroller to step aside temporarily.

The fourth person to testify before the grand jury yesterday was Ms. Burridge, the lobbyist whose name was used to open the two bank accounts.

"Those are not my signatures," she said again yesterday. "I never even knew [the accounts] existed."

She believes that her name was used in an attempt to link her organization with the one on the bank accounts.

Mrs. McLean was one of 11 charter members of Network 2000.

The organization for the promotion of women on civic and corporate boards has frozen its account since Ms. Burridge learned from State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli that her name appeared on the accounts for Resources for Women.

New city documents obtained by The Sun show that Mrs. McLean used her family's travel agency, Four Seas & Seven Winds Inc., at least twice for out-of-town trips as comptroller.

In April 1992, just a few months after she was sworn into office, Mrs. McLean flew to Louisville for a conference on the promotion of small and minority businesses. The comptroller purchased her $558 round-trip airplane ticket through Four Seas & Seven Winds, according to the travel voucher and boarding ticket.

The comptroller also used the travel business in which she has a 2 percent interest in October 1992 to buy a $250 ticket to Cleveland. She spent three days at a conference on municipal public finance sponsored by the National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials.

Four Seas & Seven Winds is now defunct. Its assets were sold this fall, but the McLeans still are paying off outstanding debts from their once-successful business.

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