Lobbyist is arrested in drug raid

March 31, 1994|By Liz Atwood and John W. Frece | Liz Atwood and John W. Frece,Sun Staff Writers

Ira C. Cooke, one of the most influential lobbyists in Maryland, was arrested on drug charges early yesterday at the Annapolis house he uses as a home and office during the General Assembly session, the second time in less than a year he has faced such charges.

Mr. Cooke, who pleaded guilty to drug charges last year, was charged yesterday with possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia by city police officers who served a search warrant at the house on Cornhill Street about 4 a.m. He was released on his own recognizance.

William Pitcher, Mr. Cooke's lawyer and fellow lobbyist, said his client is planning to seek treatment at the Sheppard Pratt Institute.

Asked if Mr. Cooke, 47, has a drug problem, Mr. Pitcher said: "He thinks he does."

Police, who said they obtained the search warrant based on a "citizen's complaint," said they found 11.5 grams of marijuana -- enough for about 25 joints -- and rolling papers in the house.

Mr. Pitcher said police apparently had been searching through Mr. Cooke's trash for several weeks, looking for evidence after receiving an anonymous tip.

"Evidently someone wants to hurt him," Mr. Pitcher said.

He said Mr. Cooke was awakened before dawn when police broke in the front door of the two-story building and barged in with shields and dogs and their guns drawn.

"They threw him on the floor on his face and handcuffed him behind his back," he said. "It was an outrage. No citizen should be subjected to this on that kind of warrant."

But Lt. Gary Simpson, Annapolis police spokesman, said it is standard procedure to catch suspects by surprise and to handcuff them.

Last April, Annapolis police raided Mr. Cooke's suite in the Loews Annapolis Hotel and discovered 10.4 grams of marijuana. He was charged with possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia and possession with intent to distribute.

In August, District Court Judge Joseph P. Manck fined the Baltimore lawyer $300 and sentenced him to 12 months' probation for the marijuana possession charge. The other charges were dropped, and Mr. Cooke was granted probation before judgment.

Under Maryland law, Mr. Cooke's conviction would be stricken from the record if he successfully completed the probation.

Assistant State's Attorney Laura Kaufman, who prosecuted the case last year, said yesterday that, if Mr. Cooke is found guilty of the latest charges, the court could revoke the probation and impose a fine or jail time for the earlier charges.

Mr. Cooke could be sentenced for up to a year in jail and fined up to $1,000 for each of the drug possession charges. The paraphernalia charge carries a maximum fine of $500 for a first-time offense.

State records list Mr. Cooke as the second highest paid lobbyist in Annapolis last year, earning $386,985 for representing 27 clients during the six months that ended April 30.

As of Jan. 24, Mr. Cooke had 18 clients, according to the state Ethics Commission. They included the Building Owners and Managers Association of Metropolitan Baltimore, the Jockey's Guild, the Maryland Securities Industries, medical groups and investment firms.

Thomas C. Shaner, executive director of three trade and professional organizations that Mr. Cooke represents, said the organizations have been told about the arrest and have not indicated any desire to change the service they receive from Mr. Cooke.

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