McLean found guilty of misconduct in office

September 08, 1994|By Jay Apperson and JoAnna Daemmrich | Jay Apperson and JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writers Sun staff writer Harold Jackson contributed to this article.

In a verdict that resolved the remaining criminal charges against her, a judge found former Baltimore Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean guilty of official misconduct yesterday for failing to disqualify herself from a proposed million-dollar city real estate deal.

Judge Donald J. Gilmore's ruling came almost a year after McLean voted for a city lease of the former headquarters of the travel agency she owned with her husband. The deal, later revoked by top city officials, led to a criminal investigation and the comptroller's downfall in a corruption scandal.

Last Friday, a tearful McLean pleaded guilty to felony theft of more than $25,000 in public funds by hiring a fictitious employee and phony research group. In an emotional courtroom confession, she described her shame as a disgraced city official and asked forgiveness from the "thousands and thousands of people whom I have let down."

Poised but subdued, she returned to court yesterday afternoon for the judge's ruling on separate misdemeanor charges that she had surreptitiously tried to arrange the 10-year, $1 million lease. She had pleaded not guilty to those charges, but waived her right to a jury trial and instead allowed the judge to decide the case on a statement of facts agreed upon by the defense and prosecution.

On the felony theft charge, State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli could recommend any punishment up to 15 years in prison, a $1,000 fine and an order to make restitution. Penalties for misconduct in office are not specified by statute.

The former comptroller, once a successful businesswoman and rising political figure, will be sentenced Dec. 15 on the theft and misconduct charges.

Defense lawyer M. Cristina Gutierrez argued at Friday's hearing that the state prosecutor did not prove McLean voted on the lease knowing she would profit from it. Judge Gilmore considered the case over the weekend before issuing his verdict yesterday.

"I find that the statement of facts supports a finding that the defendant committed misconduct in office, specifically nonfeasance in office," said the retired Carroll County Circuit judge who was assigned to the controversial case.

Dressed in a tailored pink business suit, the former comptroller sat silently and stared straight ahead as the judge pronounced her guilty.

At the end of the 15-minute hearing, McLean's daughter, Michelle, went up and patted her reassuringly on the back. Her lawyer rushed the 50-year-old former comptroller out of the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse into a waiting green sport utility vehicle with tinted windows.

'Matter resolved'

McLean returned to a halfway house at Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital in Towson, where she has been under psychiatric care for depression for the past eight months.

In April, she attempted suicide with an overdose of prescription pills and alcohol.

"I'm glad to see the matter resolved," Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said. "I had hoped there would not have to be a long, drawn-out trial. That was in the best interest of the city. City government now can move on. I hope Mrs. McLean can get her life together."

Under nonbinding sentencing guidelines, McLean, who has no prior criminal record, should receive a sentence ranging from probation to a year in jail. Defense lawyers intend to oppose any jail time. Judge Gilmore, who will sentence McLean, ordered the state prosecutor to submit the city's claim for restitution by Dec. 1. Interest would likely be included in her repayment plan.

"We don't anticipate a fight over restitution," Ms. Gutierrez said later. "We plan to either make restitution at the time or have a solid plan backed by security."

Mounting debts

For the past two years, McLean and her now-estranged husband have struggled to pay mounting debts. Their once-successful travel agency, Four Seas & Seven Winds Inc., had foundered during the recession in the summer of 1991. As McLean rose from a seat on the City Council to the third-highest position in city government, Four Seas was closing offices.

Last fall, even as the McLeans sold off travel agency assets, they were left with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debts. The couple faced a court judgment for defaulting on a $341,681 debt owed to the Development Credit Fund Inc., a nonprofit Baltimore-based community bank that had bailed Four Seas out in 1992.

The McLeans recently sold their three-story luxury condominium in the Colonnade in North Baltimore, Ms. Gutierrez said. However, most of the remaining proceeds will go toward paying a lien by Sheppard Pratt for the former comptroller's hospital care. McLean, who had been on an unpaid leave of absence since December, retired in mid-July with full benefits. She is receiving a pension of $23,850 a year and new medical benefits that she needed to continue her psychiatric treatment.

City officials have not determined whether she can continue to receive retirement benefits.

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