Steinberg will pay ex-aide

May 07, 1994|By Robert Timberg | Robert Timberg,Sun Staff Writer

Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg has agreed to pay $42,500 to his former senior campaign aide and one-time close friend Theodore G. Venetoulis to settle a bitter campaign-related legal dispute.

Both sides confirmed that an out-of-court settlement was reached late last week for civil suits each filed against the other in December. Mr. Steinberg's lawyer, Paul Mark Sandler, disclosed the $42,500 figure after conferring with his client.

Mr. Steinberg, a candidate for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, declined to comment. His press secretary, Dan Walter, said, "When I asked Mickey about it, he said that's personal business and he doesn't want to discuss it. He'd rather discuss issues." Mr. Venetoulis would only say, "I wish Mickey well."

Mr. Sandler said Mr. Steinberg planned to pay about half the $42,500 from his own pocket while his campaign committee would pick up the rest.

"The campaign owes Mr. Venetoulis for past services rendered," Mr. Sandler said. "Therefore, the campaign paid part of the settlement and Mr. Steinberg advanced the funds for the balance of the payment so that he could have a clear conscience and a good feeling that campaign contributors are not giving him money to settle lawsuits."

When asked if his use of the word "advanced" meant that Mr. Steinberg might be reimbursed by the campaign committee for his personal outlay at some later date, Mr. Sandler replied, "Not to my knowledge."

Asked if paying Mr. Venetoulis meant that Mr. Steinberg was retracting allegations against him contained in court papers, Mr. Sandler said, "Each side is dismissing its suit against the other without admitting any culpability and that is an appropriate resolution in this kind of case. And it's now history with a capital H."

From Mr. Sandler's comments, it appears Mr. Steinberg hopes the conclusion of the legal wrangle with Mr. Venetoulis, a former Baltimore county executive, will permit him to put the issue behind him.

Said Mr. Sandler, "The settlement was in the best interest of everyone, and I feel like the matter is now closed and Lieutenant Governor Steinberg can now focus on his important campaign and not have distractions of this nature interfere with his goals."

Mr. Steinberg hired Mr. Venetoulis, an old friend and political ally, in June 1993 as his campaign coordinator. The contract between the two men would have paid Mr. Venetoulis a total of $250,000 if the lieutenant governor won the Sept. 13 Democratic primary.

Their relationship, however, lasted less than five months. In October, according to court documents, Mr. Steinberg fired Mr. Venetoulis, although Mr. Steinberg and his political advisers insisted at the time that Mr. Venetoulis' role was merely being restructured.

More details emerged last Dec. 29 when Mr. Venetoulis filed suit against Mr. Steinberg and his campaign committee in Baltimore County Circuit Court, claiming he was dismissed without cause. He sought an injunction requiring the Steinberg campaign to maintain in its treasury a $180,000 balance -- the amount Mr. Venetoulis claimed he was owed.

Mr. Steinberg's counter suit, filed the same day, alleged financial irregularities by Mr. Venetoulis involving the payment of his salary, campaign bills and expense accounts.

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