Fraud, theft charges against the mayor of Crisfield dropped Errors in charging papers, witness' reluctance noted

April 15, 1997|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

PRINCESS ANNE -- Fraud and theft charges against Crisfield Mayor Donald W. Gerald were dropped yesterday, resolving almost a year of municipal embarrassment for the Somerset County fishing village famous for its crabs.

After a brief proceeding in Somerset County Circuit Court, Assistant State's Attorney Edmund L. Widdowson Jr. said errors in the charging documents and a growing unwillingness by the state's main witness -- a convicted felon -- to testify led his office to drop the charges.

Gerald's attorney, T. Joseph Touhey of Glen Burnie, was blunt: "This was a one-witness case. Kevin Kellam, who is in jail doing 42 years, is the state's star witness. He was going to get grilled good."

Touhey said the decision to drop the charges was "the right and ethical thing."

Gerald, who declined to comment yesterday, had been charged with insurance fraud, theft and conspiracy stemming from the disappearance of a refrigerated seafood truck from Frank's Seafood Co., of which he was a co-owner. Each charge carried a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

According to court documents, Kellam told the state fire marshal that Gerald hired him in 1993 to steal an empty refrigerated truck from Frank's Seafood and abandon it in Delaware.

Gerald reported the truck stolen and filed an insurance claim for $87,000 worth of seafood, listing the truck's contents as 3,000 pounds of special-grade crab meat valued at $6 a pound, 3,000 pounds of backfin at $8 a pound, 4,000 pounds of jumbo lump crab meat at $9 a pound and 1,200 pounds of prime soft crabs at $7 a pound.

When the truck was found beside Route 13 in Harrington, Del., early July 16, 1993, it was empty and had been hot-wired, investigators said. Essex Insurance Co. paid Gerald $84,500 for the missing seafood.

Kellam, who is serving 42 years on felony robbery charges in an unrelated case, testified in an earlier trial in which Gerald was acquitted of perjury. Defense and prosecution attorneys pointed to the perjury case and Kellam's unwillingness to testify as factors in yesterday's action.

"Their case got started with a fairy tale told to them by Kellam," Touhey said yesterday. "Kellam hates Gerald because he thinks Gerald got him arrested on other charges."

Widdowson said Kellam had become unwilling to testify a second time against Gerald and that the state had chosen to drop the case. He did not specify the errors in the charging documents.

Greg Sterling, one of three City Council members in economically hard-pressed Crisfield, said he hoped the dismissal of charges against the mayor would give the town time to settle down and get on with business during the remaining year of their term, which ends in June 1998.

"I'm glad everything is clear," he said. "There was talk in Crisfield. It seemed like there was a cloud. I'm glad it's over now."

Pub Date: 4/15/97

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