Housing aide admits taking bribes

August 27, 1994|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Joanna Daemmrich contributed to this article.

In a widening federal probe of the Housing Authority of Baltimore City, a second official has pleaded guilty to accepting bribes from contractors and has agreed to cooperate in the investigation.

Charles Morris, 46, former management analyst of the agency's Housing Division, dealt with all levels of authority within the agency, reporting to ombudsman Reginald Scriber and executive director Daniel P. Henson III.

In court yesterday, he admitted accepting $22,000 in cash, gifts and services from four contractors, who rewarded him after he helped steer work to them.

Morris was among several Housing Authority officials who reviewed applications to decide which contractors were eligible

for jobs through the Vacancy Special Funding Program, which awarded at least $23 million in no-bid renovation contracts last year.

He made the preliminary selections of contractors, and once they submitted estimates for the work, approved or denied them jobs, according to court records.

Prosecutors would not identify the contractors, saying they are targets in the continuing probe.

Most of the bribes were cash payments made in increments ranging from $500 to $5,000, according to court records.

Despite accepting the bribes, Morris "never permitted the quality of the work to be compromised," said his attorney, Aron U. Raskas.

Morris was charged with one count of federal bribery. He faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Morris worked for the agency from 1979 to last month when he resigned to continue his education. His Housing Authority jobs included building inspections and property rehabilitation.

He was selected to coordinate the emergency repair program in the fall of 1992, according to Zack Germroth, a Housing Authority spokesman.

U.S. District Judge Frederic N. Smalkin delayed sentencing, since prosecutors could recommend a lighter prison term if Morris' contribution to the investigation is significant.

"The Housing Authority of Baltimore City will not condone any employee at any level acting improperly in the conduct of business and welcomes assistance in identifying persons choosing to conduct illegal acts," said Mr. Germroth.

The Vacancy Special Funding Program, financed with federal dollars, began in March 1993 with the purpose of reducing the agency's waiting list of 18,000 families by renovating housing throughout Baltimore.

Morris is the second, and highest ranking, Housing Authority official to be convicted as a result of the investigation, which the FBI began in February 1993.

John L. Dutkevich, a 46-year-old Housing Authority engineer, admitted in January to accepting more than $25,000 in bribes in connection with Housing Authority contracts between 1990 and

1993.

The Dutkevich investigation spawned the broader probe, and prosecutors in April ordered the agency to turn over documents on seven of the 32 contractors hired under the program, including construction proposals, cost estimates, invoices, telephone messages, faxes, inspection reports and payment records.

Since then it has been revealed that the brother-in-law of Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke received contracts worth $327,001 through the program, and that companies owned by the parents and sister of Housing Authority board member Larry Jennings Jr. also received contracts.

Prosecutors from the Department of Justice took over the Morris part of the case after it was discovered that a relative of Morris was employed in the office of the U.S. attorney in Baltimore.

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