McLean pleads guilty, asks forgiveness Ex-comptroller ends her silence, admits stealing $25,000

September 03, 1994|By This article was written and reported by Sun staff writers Jay Apperson, JoAnna Daemmrich and Melody Simmons.

Former Baltimore Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean offered a tearful courtroom confession yesterday, describing her shame as disgraced city official and seeking forgiveness for stealing thousands in taxpayer dollars.

Dabbing a crumpled tissue to her eyes, McLean pleaded guilty to scheming to misappropriate more than $25,000 in public funds by hiring a fictitious employee and a phony research group. She also admitted that the money went to pay off her credit card bills, business debts, mobile phone charges and even for hardwood floors for her condominium.

Her guilty plea was a milestone in a drawn-out corruption scandal that left City Hall on edge and prompted months of legal one-upmanship. The hearing also provided an arena for McLean to end eight months of public silence with a mea culpa.

She stood, despite the judge's reassurance that she was not required to say anything, and said in a halting voice, "I am ashamed."

She added later in her statement, "I have always said I hate a thief. That's the way my parents taught me. I am here to say publicly I am [the] thief that I have been brought up to hate and detest."

Three months ago, a listless, unsteady McLean slumped in her seat as her lawyers sought a postponement of her trial. Yesterday, she appeared more poised in a white print silk dress and spoke in a clear voice, only occasionally faltering during the proceedings.

"In the months ahead," she said, "with God's help, I hope I can begin to learn how my living could be worthwhile to all the thousands and thousands of people whom I have let down."

McLean will be sentenced Dec. 15. She also must return to court next week, when Judge Donald J. Gilmore, a retired Carroll County circuit judge sitting in the city, will issue his verdict on separate charges that McLean arranged a $1 million city lease of the one-time headquarters of her travel agency. She pleaded not guilty to that indictment yesterday.

Under an agreement that led to yesterday's guilty plea, prosecutorsdropped a related count of official misconduct but are free to recommend anything up to the maximum punishment of 15 years in prison, a $1,000 fine and an order to pay restitution. State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli would not say what punishment he intends to recommend.

Defense lawyers for the 50-year-old former comptroller intend to oppose any jail time. A restitution plan is being drafted, said M. Cristina Gutierrez, McLean's attorney.

Ms. Gutierrez wants her client to be accepted into the court's Alternative Sentencing Unit, which could involve anything from strict probation to monitoring at Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital.

McLean, who attempted suicide with a near-fatal overdose of prescription pills and alcohol in April, has been undergoing treatment for severe depression at the Towson psychiatric hospital.

Missing details supplied

Yesterday, the state prosecutor read a lengthy statement signed by McLean and her lawyers that revealed missing details in the theft scheme. It began in late September 1992, when McLean slipped a contract through the city government to hire a "Michele McCloud" as a consultant. She soon had effectively tripled the hourly salary of the phony employee and forged signatures to set up bank accounts for the nonexistent Resources for Women.

For 14 months, regular payments were sent to Salon Me'Chelle, a Northwest Baltimore beauty shop owned by the former comptroller's sister and brother-in-law. McLean withdrew money from the bank accounts to pay off $13,559 in credit card bills, $6,400 in outstanding debts from the defunct Four Seas & Seven Winds travel agency and $132.49 for parquet floors.

A state police handwriting expert concluded that McLean forged endorsements and signatures on at least 19 documents. The former comptroller personally authorized all of the invoices and asked her employees to witness already forged signatures of Michele McCloud and to prepare payment orders.

Elected officials and former associates of McLean expressed sadness and relief yesterday after she pleaded guilty. McLean had risen to the city's most powerful circles, from the City Council to comptroller.

"I think it's a sad day for city government and for all of us who are elected officials," said council President Mary Pat Clarke. "We all now want to put this issue behind us."

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke was out of town and could not be reached. Others who knew McLean during her 11-year tenure at City Hall tried to focus on her contributions.

'She made a mistake'

"I'm glad it's been brought to a closure," said former 2nd District Councilman Nathaniel J. McFadden, who befriended McLean when she first won a 2nd District seat in 1983. "Jackie was a good public servant. She made a mistake, she admitted her mistake, and she's now in the process of redeeming herself."

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