State prosecutor, legislator to probe $2,000 loan to Harrison from Bereano

October 07, 1994|By Marina Sarris and JoAnna Daemmrich | Marina Sarris and JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writers

A state prosecutor and a key legislator are planning to pursue separate inquiries of state Del. Hattie N. Harrison and her acceptance of a $2,000 loan from one of Maryland's top lobbyists.

Delegate Harrison, a Baltimore Democrat, accepted the loan -- and failed to report it as required by the state's ethics laws -- from Annapolis lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano in 1990. She said this week that she needed the loan for a financially strapped friend, who has since repaid it.

Yesterday, officials said the transaction required serious scrutiny.

"I can assure you that it will be looked into," said Sen. Julian L. Lapides, a Baltimore Democrat who co-chairs the Maryland General Assembly's Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics. "It's a serious matter."

State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli said yesterday that he, too, plans to investigate once federal prosecutors finish pursuing a fraud case against Mr. Bereano.

The loan, which surfaced in an FBI investigation of Mr. Bereano, could become evidence in Mr. Bereano's federal trial on fraud charges later this month.

Prosecutors are expected to use the loan as an example of how Mr. Bereano used his staff to disguise financial transactions with state legislators.

Ms. Harrison has said the lobbyist gave the money to an employee of his law firm, who then turned it over to her.

"Eventually we will have to ask her [Ms. Harrison] some questions," Mr. Montanarelli said.

The prosecutor said he wanted to wait because "we don't want to interfere with anything the U.S. attorney's office is doing in the Bereano matter."

Ms. Harrison, a delegate since 1973 who faces no opposition in November's general election, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

State legislators are required to disclose anything that might pose a conflict of interest or give the appearance of a conflict. That includes soliciting or accepting a loan from someone affected by bills before the General Assembly.

Ms. Harrison said earlier this week that she did not report the loan on her financial-disclosure forms because the money was ++ for the friend and not for her own use.

She also failed to report the matter to the legislature's ethics committee.

She chairs the House Rules and Executive Nominations Committee and serves on the Economic Matters Committee, which deals with business-related bills. The committee handles legislation that affects some of Mr. Bereano's clients, who range from tobacco to insurance companies.

Mr. Montanarelli has the authority to pursue ethics charges against an elected official, while Mr. Lapides' committee has the power to recommend the removal of a legislator who violates ethics rules.

But the vast majority of cases handled by the legislative ethics committee do not result in a lawmaker's removal from office.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday that he plans to ask Ms. Harrison for a full explanation of the loan at a breakfast he is having with her this morning.

"Now that this issue has come up about the loan, I will simply ask her to tell me about it and give me some details," Mr. Schmoke said at his weekly news briefing. "I do think it's incumbent on me to find out some more information."

The mayor, who supported her re-election campaign this summer, continued, "I have never had any reason to doubt Mrs. Harrison's honesty or integrity. She's always been a very hard-working person as a mayor's representative and a real valuable community asset."

But, he said, he believes "it's important for me to know from her as much detail as I possibly can get on this particular loan."

Delegate Harrison has worked as a mayor's representative since 1980 and receives a salary of $30,900 a year.

She heads a neighborhood "Hub" at Dunbar High School in East Baltimore that provides referrals and community services.

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