McLean's court date delayed

April 28, 1994|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writer

Baltimore Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean's approaching court date was delayed yesterday as her lawyers sought an agreement with the state prosecutor in which she would plead guilty to misconduct and stealing thousands in city funds.

Mrs. McLean, who attempted suicide two weeks ago by taking large quantities of prescription drugs with alcohol, remains despondent and in a psychiatric hospital, her attorney told a judge.

Attorney M. Cristina Gutierrez obtained a postponement of Mrs. McLean's rearraignment from Monday to May 10, after saying the comptroller's fragile emotional state would prevent her from appearing in court.

Mrs. McLean did not attend her arraignment in late March because she was at Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital, a Towson mental health institution. At the March hearing, her attorneys entered an innocent plea for her.

"On top of the depression, which she has suffered from all of her adult life, she has severe stresses in the criminal charges, the stress on her finances, the running out of insurance and the impact on her family," Ms. Gutierrez said yesterday.

In an interview after Baltimore Circuit Judge Joseph P. McCurdy Jr. granted the postponement, she added, "The reason we gave is her continuing psychiatric deterioration. She's considered to be significantly at risk."

Ms. Gutierrez, who represents Mrs. McLean with William H. Murphy Jr., acknowledged that she has been talking with State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli. The negotiations are difficult because of Mrs. McLean's depression, she said.

One of the main sticking points in the talks is that Mrs. McLean's lawyers want to spare her any jail time and the state prosecutor is holding out for a sentence of 30 to 90 days, according to sources close to the talks. The negotiations include terms for repaying the $25,000 she allegedly funneled from the city by setting up accounts with a fictitious employee, Michele McCloud, and a nonexistent organization.

Maryland's state prosecutor declined to comment on the plea bargaining yesterday. However, Mr. Montanarelli said he's prepared to proceed with the theft and misconduct charges against Mrs. McLean if the case goes to trial as scheduled June 8.

"There are always problems when you have a defendant who has personal problems," he said. "But we are not treating her any differently than we would any other defendant who had attempted to commit suicide."

Mrs. McLean, who is on an unpaid leave of absence, was indicted in February on charges of stealing more than $25,000 in public funds and trying to steer a $1 million city lease to the former headquarters of her travel agency.

As her once-promising political career unraveled, the 50-year-old comptroller became increasingly depressed. She spent much of the winter and spring under psychiatric care at Sheppard Pratt. Each of the three times she was released, she attempted suicide by swallowing her anti-depressant drugs with alcohol, her attorney said.

Ms. Gutierrez also expressed concern yesterday about continuing health benefits for the comptroller, who will need psychiatric treatment for months and possibly years.

Mrs. McLean has exhausted the 60-day hospitalization covered by the city's insurance plan but has received an extension.

The city continues some medical benefits in cases of severe traumas, but the extension will not last for years, said Jesse E. Hoskins, the city's personnel director. If a city employee requires extensive medical care, he said, the city would recommend TC medical disability retirement.

It is unclear whether Mrs. McLean would qualify for a disability retirement. A clause in the city code states that "no benefits be paid to any official or his or her beneficiary who is convicted of a job-related offense . . punishable by incarceration for more than six months or punishable by a fine in excess of $500."

City Solicitor Neal M. Janey said he's looking into the matter.

Amid the mounting pressures, Mrs. McLean is caught in a financial struggle.

The woman who promoted herself as a savvy business leader to rise to the third-highest office in Baltimore government has no salary and little savings, her lawyer said. The travel agency she founded with her husband collapsed in the recession, and the couple has only two major assets left -- a luxury condominium at the Colonnade and a beach house in Delaware.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday that the day-to-day operations of the city have not been hurt by the comptroller's long absence.

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