McLean won't be impeached

March 01, 1994|By Sandy Banisky and JoAnna Daemmrich | Sandy Banisky and JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writers

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has decided for now to forgo the spectacle of impeachment proceedings against embattled Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean, indicted Friday on charges of felony theft and misconduct in office.

After a call to State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli yesterday, the mayor said, he agreed to let the criminal case against Mrs. McLean proceed without the distraction of impeachment or an ethics probe. If the mayor moved to impeach the comptroller, the 19-member City Council would sit in judgment of her.

"[Mr. Montanarelli] would prefer we give preference to the criminal case," Mr. Schmoke said.

In deferring to the state prosecutor, the mayor may avoid any need to remove Mrs. McLean, who holds the city's third-most-powerful position. If convicted, she will be forced to resign; if acquitted, she presumably can resume her job.

Mrs. McLean, 49, was indicted last week on one count of felony theft and four counts of misconduct in office. A Baltimore grand jury accused her of stealing $25,189 in city funds by authorizing regular payments to a fictitious consultant called Michele McCloud and a phony organization.

The comptroller also was accused of surreptitiously arranging a $1 million lease of the former headquarters of Four Seas & Seven Winds Inc., the defunct travel agency that she used to run with her husband, James.

The maximum penalty for felony theft is 15 years in prison and a $1,000 fine, in addition to repayment of the city money. Misconduct in office does not carry specific penalties.

Neither Mrs. McLean nor her attorney, William H. Murphy Jr., was available for comment yesterday.

Mr. Schmoke said he called the prosecutor "just to get an assessment" of the case and to see if the city should revive an ethics investigation into Mrs. McLean's dealings or begin impeachment. Mr. Montanarelli, the mayor said, would prefer to "resolve the criminal charges without any other independent investigations occurring."

"That's fine with us," Mr. Montanarelli said of the mayor's decision. He declined to comment further.

Mr. Montanarelli, who spent three months looking into Mrs. McLean's activities, previously had asked the city to halt its ethics probe until his criminal investigation was concluded. The ethics board had sent a letter requesting an explanation from Mrs. McLean about her actions but did not receive a response before the probe was halted, said Alan Yuspeh, who heads the board.

Mr. Schmoke -- who had suggested after the indictment that Mrs. McLean consider stepping aside -- said yesterday that he hasn't spoken to her "for a couple of months now."

A few people have called his office about the case, he said. "What I've heard primarily has been a real sense of disappointment from people who were very strong supporters of the comptroller. And I've heard from people who say she's innocent until proven guilty."

Clinton R. Coleman, Mr. Schmoke's press aide, added later that the mayor's office received its heaviest volume of calls on the McLean issue after her Dec. 20 announcement that she was taking a leave, with pay, while the investigation proceeded.

Later that month, she turned over the keys to her city car and gave up her $53,000-a-year salary.

For the past two months, the comptroller has been silent about the controversy surrounding her.

A political unknown when she ran for the City Council in 1983, Mrs. McLean rose swiftly and was elected comptroller by a large margin in 1991. She defined her public image by the success of her travel agency, once touted as the state's largest minority business. The business fell apart during the recession. In the past, some indicted city officials have held their posts with relatively little controversy until charges against them were resolved.

Among them was Walter S. Orlinsky, who was council president xTC when he was indicted in 1982 and charged with taking more than $10,000 in bribes from a Philadelphia company that won a lucrative sludge-hauling contract. He left office after pleading guilty nearly six months after the indictment.

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