McLEAN PLEADS GUILTY TO THEFT

September 02, 1994|By Jay Apperson and JoAnna Daemmrich | Jay Apperson and JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writers Staff writer Melody Simmons contributed to this article.

Former Baltimore Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean today admitted stealing more than $25,000 in public money by placing a fictitious employee on the city payroll and using the funds to pay her credit card bills and outstanding debts of her now defunct travel business.

"This is the most difficult thing I have ever done in my entire life, admitting what I have done and to do it publicly," McLean said during a Baltimore Circuit Court hearing in which she pleaded guilty to one count of felony theft.

"I have always said I hate a thief. That's the way my parents taught me," she said. "I am here to say publicly I am a thief that I have been brought up to hate and detest."

Under the terms of the plea agreement on the felony theft count, McLean would be sentenced after a recommendation is made by the court's Alternative Sentencing Unit. McLean's lawyers want to have her serve her time while at Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital, a private mental hospital where she has undergoing treatment for depression, sources said.

Under the plea agreement, prosecutors would be free to argue )) for any sentence allowed by law or within sentencing guidelines. The maximum penalty for felony theft is 15 years and a $1,000 fine, along with a requirement to pay restitution. The agreement also would require prosecutors to recommend a sentence within sentencing guidelines. Those guidelines were not immediately available for McLean, who has no prior record. The agreement would allow the defense to argue for whatever sentence it chose to, including probation. A pre-sentence investigation by parole and probation officials was ordered. No sentencing date was immediately set.

After the court accepted McLean's guilty plea on the theft count, the parties turned their attention to charges that McLean tried to arrange a $1 million lease for a family-owned building. In that matter, McLean pleaded not guilty to misconduct in office, but waived her right to a trial and allowed prosecutors to recite another statement of facts.

McLean, 50, appeared to be in better health yesterday than she'd been in her most recent court appearances in June, when she twice had to be removed from the courtroom after suffering what her lawyers called panic attacks. She has been hospitalized for severe depression and an anxiety disorder since January at Sheppard Pratt. In April, on one of her brief releases from the hospital, McLean took a near-fatal overdose of prescription medication and alcohol.

She arrived at the downtown courthouse about 9:10 a.m., wearing a white print dress. As she entered the courthouse, she hugged several supporters and then was led into a conference room to await the start of the hearing.

At 9:35 a.m. she entered the courtroom with her lawyers, M. Cristina Gutierrez and John Morris. After her intention to plead guilty was announced, she answered a series of questions from Judge Gilmore in a clear voice. Only when the judge asked her whether she was pleading guilty because she was truly guilty of the crimes, did she falter.

"Yes, sir," she answered in a whisper.

"You have to answer for the record," Judge Gilmore said. McLean responded, more loudly, "Yes."

Her lawyer pointed out to the court that McLean was under the influence of medicine prescribed for her depression, but that she was competent to proceed.

After the colloquy, state prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli read into the record the statement of facts that said McLean arranged for the city Board of Estimates to approve a contract for a ghost employee named Michelle McCloud to be paid up to $21.73 an hour, or $917 a month, to work as a research analyst in the comptroller's office.

He said investigators traced checks and bank records to find the money paid to the ficticious employee eventually was used to pay McLean's credit card bills, bills for her Four Seasons/Seven Winds travel agency and to install parquet floors in her downtown condominium. Prosecutors listed the total amount stolen as $25,189.10

The only portion of Mr. Montanarelli's statement disputed by McLean was his assertion that Shirley Williams, then deputy comptroller, raised suspicions about the fictitious employee.

After Judge Gilmore found McLean guilty of felony theft, Mr. Montanarelli dropped a misconduct in office charge pertaining to the ghost employee. McLean then asked to address the court.

After she made her statement, she embraced Ms. Gutierrez, and then hugged several supporters.

The hearing resumed about 10 minutes later to consider charges that McLean had tried to steer a lucrative city lease to the former headquarters of Four Seas & Seven Winds Inc., the travel agency she owned with her husband, James.

McLean's conviction ended a saga of legal one-upmanship that included withdrawn plea offers, demands that two judges be removed from the case and an extraordinary meeting between five City Council members and administrative judges.

Prosecutors and her defense lawyers also battled over whether the former comptroller's mental illness had rendered her competent to answer the charges.

l At one point, McLean was offered a chance to plead guilty and serve 30 days in jail, but that offer was withdrawn after her suicide attempt in April. Mr. Montanarelli then sought a year in jail for McLean, Ms. Gutierrez has said. In June, Judge Elsbeth Bothe, the assigned trial judge who had been asked by defense lawyers to step down from the case, agreed to a one-year cap on any sentence. The trial's scheduled start in June was delayed when McLean was committed as a state mental patient.

Mrs. McLean retired in July.

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