Housing official linked to family firm Bribery trial records show Jennings Jr. as Elias company officer

November 21, 1995|By Scott Higham | Scott Higham,SUN STAFF

Larry Jennings Jr. served as a corporate officer for his family's firm while working as a board member for the Baltimore Housing Authority board -- the same agency that awarded nearly $1 million in no-bid city contracts to the company, according to records released yesterday.

For the first time, the records introduced during the bribery trial of his father show that the younger Mr. Jennings was in a position to profit from the firm, despite claiming that he knew next to nothing about the company when it was winning city contracts from the housing agency.

The younger Mr. Jennings did not return messages for comment yesterday.

Testifying on his own behalf yesterday, shortly before prosecutors and defense attorneys presented final arguments in the case, Larry Jennings Sr. was evasive when asked to disclose the names of the officers of the firm, Elias Contracting Corp.

"Who were the officers of Elias," Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen O. Gavin asked.

L "Myself. My daughter. My wife," the elder Mr. Jennings said.

"Anyone else?"

"I'm not sure," he said.

Ms. Gavin asked the elder Mr. Jennings to review an application the younger Mr. Jennings had filled out for a private home-repair referral company. The younger Mr. Jennings signed the application, dated it March 6, 1993, and listed his occupation as "V.P. Business/Finance," a copy of the application shows.

At the time, Elias Contracting was soliciting no-bid work from the Housing Authority under a $25.6 million program to repair rundown houses in the city. Also at that time, the younger Mr. Jennings was serving as a Schmoke administration appointee to the housing board.

"I don't know what that application is about," the elder Mr. Jennings testified.

"Is that your son's signature," Ms. Gavin asked.

"Yes, ma'am," he said.

is not clear whether the younger Mr. Jennings drew a salary while working for the family firm.

Company checks

But other records introduced in court show that the younger Mr. Jennings bought a used Ford Ranger truck for $1,250 in 1992 and paid for it with an Elias check.

The records also show that Elias issued a check in June 1993 to the younger Mr. Jennings made payable to a real estate and property management firm he ran called Carnegie Morgan. The check was later voided.

The chairman of the housing board said yesterday that he was surprised by the revelations.

"I was not aware of that," Reginald Thomas said in an interview. "If I was aware of that, that would have presented conflict-of-interest appearances. I want to make it perfectly clear, I'm not aware of any this."

With the bribery case still in court, Mr. Thomas said he was reluctant to discuss whether the younger Mr. Jennings violated conflict-of-interest laws and what steps his board could take to prevent conflicts in the future.

"I will look at all the ethics policies, and quite possibly there needs to be some adjustment somewhere," Mr. Thomas said.

"I'm concerned about appearances."

The records were released on the last day of the six-day trial.

The elder Mr. Jennings is accused of paying three bribes totaling $6,500 to a Housing Authority manager at a time when the agency was handing out millions in no-bid repair contracts.

The elder Mr. Jennings and his family ran two companies that won city contracts -- Elias and Environmental Protection Co.

$1.18 million in contracts

Together, the firms received more than $1.18 million in no-bid work.

Prosecutors told jurors yesterday that the elder Mr. Jennings cleared the path for a "gravy train" in public contracts that went to his company by allegedly paying off housing manager Charles Morris and then masking the money as legitimate payments to subcontractors.

"Larry Jennings Sr. hit the jackpot in the business world. The wonderful thing about the jackpot was the repeat business," Ms. Gavin told the jury. "He wanted to hit that jackpot again, and again, and again. To make sure, he paid Mr. Morris again, and again, and again."

Using large boards with colorful time-lines, Ms. Gavin told jurors they should pay attention to the records that she said support Mr. Morris' testimony.

Among them were receipts for traveler's checks and flowers Mr. Morris says he bought with bribe money; checks made out to Elias subcontractors who say they never received the money; and Elias estimates for city housing jobs submitted around the time of the alleged payoffs.

Defense attorney George J. Terwilliger III ridiculed the case, picking up the prosecution's time-line boards and tossing them against the courtroom wall.

"These things can be put on the trash heap where they belong," he told jurors.

Mr. Terwilliger portrayed Mr. Morris as a liar who was trying to ruin the reputation of a hard-working family man to save himself from a long prison term.

"Would you make an important decision in your life based on the word of Charles Morris?" Mr. Terwilliger asked.

"Using your common sense, can you say in your heart that Chuck Morris is a believeable individual?"

Defense attacks evidence

Mr. Terwilliger accused prosecutors of fabricating evidence to support the word of a self-confessed swindler.

He said the checks that prosecutors claim were generated to fund the alleged bribes were really loan repayments, nothing more.

"If Mr. Jennings wanted to pay a bribe to Charles Morris, do you think he'd create this elaborate scheme?" he asked.

The case, Mr. Terwilliger told the panel, turns on the word of one man.

"If you don't believe Charles Morris," he said, "the case is over."

Jurors are to begin deliberating this morning.

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