Candidate says his foe stole signs

November 07, 1994|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Sun Staff Writer

An Essex printer running for Baltimore County Council against incumbent Vincent J. Gardina signed a criminal complaint yesterday accusing his opponent of stealing campaign signs -- a charge Mr. Gardina denies.

Thomas Rzepnicki, a Republican, said he swore out the criminal summons against Mr. Gardina after a campaign volunteer reported encountering Mr. Gardina at a busy White Marsh intersection shortly after midnight yesterday, taking down signs.

The charge is misdemeanor theft, because the signs were worth only about $20.

"To me, it's a desperate act, at the last minute, to take down the signs," said Mr. Rzepnicki, who is attempting to unseat Mr. Gardina in the 5th Councilmanic District, which encompasses the Essex, White Marsh and Perry Hall areas.

"I think he's paranoid. I think he needs help."

Mr. Gardina denied the accusation, saying he was at home in bed around 12:30 a.m. yesterday, when the sign thefts were alleged to have happened.

"He's fabricating all of this," Mr. Gardina said. "He's just trying to make up something at the 11th hour."

The witness was Barry Bobo, a volunteer for Mr. Rzepnicki, who said he noticed some signs were missing from a cluster of candidates' signs at the corner of Silver Spring and Belair roads early yesterday.

He said he stopped to replace the Rzepnicki signs, which had been attached on top of a pair of signs for Delegates Alfred W. Redmer Jr. and James F. Ports Jr., both Republicans seeking re-election in the 8th Legislative District, when he saw a man taking down another one nearby.

According to Mr. Bobo, he confronted the man, who at first replied, "These signs were falling down. I'm fixing them."

Mr. Bobo said he recognized the councilman. "I said, 'You're Vince Gardina, aren't you?' And he said, 'Yes, I am.'

" 'What are you doing here?' " Mr. Bobo said he asked him. "He said, 'Well, Al Redmer doesn't want these signs up here.' "

Mr. Bobo said he went back to his car to call police on his car phone. As he drove around the corner and into the shopping center near the intersection, he noticed that the man was leaving. He said he followed and obtained the tag number of the car -- which he described as a dark blue General Motors vehicle.

Mr. Rzepnicki said police ran the tag number, and it came back registered to the Baltimore County government.

Mr. Gardina acknowledged that he has a dark blue county car, with a county tag number, but said: "I wasn't there last night. I was in bed. They're making it up. . . . Why would they make it up? Because they're desperate.

"I think they did this to get some negative publicity the day before the election," said Mr. Gardina, who said he thought the allegations should not be printed -- even though Mr. Rzepnicki had filed a formal charge.

Mr. Bobo said he has seen Mr. Gardina at a number of public functions, and in photographs. He said that he has no doubt it was Mr. Gardina.

"It was unbelievable," he said. "It was definitely him. I'm really shocked at this. I never expected to see this in a million years. It kind of blew me away."

Mr. Bobo told a police officer that it was Mr. Gardina he saw taking the signs down, and repeated it to a District Court commissioner in Essex when Mr. Rzepnicki himself swore out the summons.

The summons had not been served by last night. A commissioner said that the Police Department may take several days to serve a misdemeanor criminal summons.

Mr. Gardina, himself a former county police officer, said anyone can swear out a complaint by lying on the complaint form. And he said he intends to get a lawyer and possibly sue his opponent for filing false charges against him.

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