Innocent plea entered for McLean court date set

March 22, 1994|By JoAnna Daemmrich and Kim Clark | JoAnna Daemmrich and Kim Clark,Sun Staff Writers

Baltimore Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean was a no-show for her arraignment yesterday, but her lawyer entered an innocent plea to charges that she stole thousands from the city and steered a lease to a building she and her husband own.

M. Cristina Gutierrez also asked for a rearraignment six weeks from now and requested a jury trial.

Mrs. McLean, the third most powerful official in Baltimore government, has not been seen in public since she went on a leave of absence three months ago.

The comptroller was indicted by a special grand jury Feb. 25 on four counts of misconduct in office and one count of felony theft. Yesterday, Baltimore Circuit Judge Joseph P. McCurdy Jr. scheduled a trial for June 8.

Some confusion over her arraignment heightened the speculation surrounding the case against Mrs. McLean, once a rising political star who was regarded as a potential candidate for mayor.

Mrs. McLean's lawyer quietly leaned over and entered the plea while television crews and reporters wondered aloud about the second arraignment date. Ms. Gutierrez snapped, "No comment," as she rushed out of the courtroom and down the marble steps of the courthouse.

The comptroller, 50, has been silent about the allegations against her since slipping from view in late December after complaining that she was being hounded by the media.

Neither Ms. Gutierrez nor State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli would explain why they had arranged for another arraignment.

"If I told you that I would be explaining it, and I don't want to do that," Mr. Montanarelli said.

However, Judge McCurdy maintained that a second arraignment was not unusual.

"The process was not delayed in any way," he said. "We wouldn't be going through the whole thing again, but if both sides agree that they want to come in to court before the trial date, we do that as a courtesy as long as it's not going to delay their trial."

Some defense lawyers who are not involved in the case said the second court date signals that negotiations are under way. One, Michael E. Kaminkow, called the rearraignment "highly unusual."

It "suggests that possible plea negotiations are under way," said Mr. Kaminkow, who helped defend Walter S. Orlinsky, the former City Council president charged in 1982 with taking $10,000 in bribes from a Philadelphia company that won a lucrative sludge-hauling contract. Mr. Orlinsky left office after pleading guilty.

Mrs. McLean is accused of authorizing $25,189 in payments to a fictitious consultant called Michele McCloud and a phony organization. The checks were sent regularly to her sister's hair salon in Northwest Baltimore and deposited in bank accounts under the name of Resources for Women, a nonexistent group.

She also faces charges of misconduct for allegedly trying surreptitiously to arrange a $1 million lease of the former headquarters of Four Seas & Seven Winds Inc., the defunct travel business that she and her husband, James H. McLean, operated.

If convicted of the theft charge, Mrs. McLean could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison, fined $1,000 and ordered to make restitution. Penalties for the misconduct charge are not specified by statute.

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