Schmoke aide tied to no-bid contracts Chief of staff helped Jenningses, FBI reports say

Bribery trial opens

Housing Authority staff reportedly warned of conflict

November 14, 1995|By Scott Higham | Scott Higham,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Eric Siegel and JoAnna Daemmrich contributed to this article.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's chief of staff steered lucrative no-bid city housing contracts to the father of a mayoral appointee despite objections from Housing Authority managers who cautioned that the contracts posed a conflict of interest, according to FBI reports released yesterday.

By intervening in the contract approval process, chief of staff Lynnette Young cleared the way for more than $1.18 million worth of no-bid repair contracts that went to firms controlled by ,, Larry Jennings Sr., his wife and his daughter, the reports show.

The FBI reports also show that Mr. Jennings' son, Larry Jennings Jr. -- appointed by the mayor to the Housing Authority's governing board -- played a much larger role than previously disclosed in influencing contracts for his father, his mother and his sister

According to the reports, the younger Mr. Jennings provided a set of golf clubs to the housing manager responsible for awarding the contracts, and also participated in a meeting between his father and the manager at a restaurant before the contracts were awarded.

The reports provide a rare glimpse of the way the mayor's office and the Housing Authority distributed millions to repair abandoned houses without the safeguard of competitive bids. Ultimately, the city's miscues caught the attention of federal housing auditors and FBI agents.

Both Mayor Schmoke and Ms. Young said last night they were advised not to comment by their attorneys, according to Clinton R. Coleman, the mayor's spokesman. The younger Mr. Jennings, who has since stepped down from the housing board, did not return phone messages seeking comment last night.

In previous interviews, Mr. Jennings denied any involvement in his family's work for the city.

The disclosures came on the first day of the elder Mr. Jennings' trial on federal bribery charges. He is accused of making a series of cash payments to pave the way for the contracts and then falsely concealing the alleged bribes as legitimate business expenses on his federal tax forms.

Defense attorneys submitted the FBI reports as part of an attempt to bar testimony from the trial, saying the material would prejudice the jury against their client. They also asked U.S. District Judge Frederic N. Smalkin to seal the documents. The judge refused.

The reports are excerpts of the FBI's case against the elder Mr. Jennings and include conversations between agents and the federal government's star witness in the case, Charles Morris. A former manager of the no-bid repair program, Morris has pleaded guilty to taking bribes from contractors in exchange for work. He is cooperating with an FBI investigation into corruption claims at the Housing Authority.

'Whatever was necessary'

According to the FBI reports, Morris met the elder Mr. Jennings at the direction of one of his bosses, who had attended the wedding of the younger Mr. Jennings.

Morris said his boss wanted to "show his gratitude" for being invited to the wedding, and "to do whatever was necessary" to steer some work to a company controlled by the elder Mr. Jennings: Elias Contracting.

As the program was beginning in 1991, Morris told the FBI, he met with the elder Mr. Jennings and his son, the board member, at a restaurant in the Cross Keys section of the city. Morris said he asked the younger Mr. Jennings if he had any financial interest in Elias Contracting. The board member told him he did not, according to the FBI report.

Still, Morris told the FBI that he and Juanita Clark Harris, then-director of the Housing Authority, objected to granting public work to a company controlled by the father of an agency board member.

That's when City Hall stepped in, Morris told the FBI.

"It took a telephone call from Lynnette Young, City Hall, to HABC [Housing Authority of Baltimore City] for Jennings Sr. to get onto the list of contractors," an FBI agent wrote in a field report dated May 10, 1994.

Donations to Schmoke

The FBI report noted that the Jenningses have donated at least $20,000 to Mayor Schmoke's political campaigns. A review of campaign filings over the past three years shows that the contributions came from Jennings family members as well as companies that they control.

Morris also told the FBI that the younger Mr. Jennings gave him a gift in 1993, around the time that the elder Mr. Jennings was trying to win a contract for another company he controlled -- Environmental Protection -- to test publicly owned houses for lead paint poisoning. He wound up winning the contract worth $254,000.

"Larry Jennings Jr. gave Morris a used set of golf clubs in the summer, or early fall of 1993," an FBI agent wrote in one of the reports. "According to Jennings Jr., he had recently bought a new set of clubs."

The elder Mr. Jennings also allegedly gave Morris one of the cash bribes the same day the Housing Authority announced it planned to hire a lead paint contractor, according to court records and testimony.

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