Ex-official gets 2 years for money diversion Huddles, who once was a rising star, used drug dealer's cash

July 22, 1997|By Scott Higham | Scott Higham,SUN STAFF

The once-promising career of former Baltimore County Councilman Gary Huddles came to a close yesterday when he pleaded guilty to illegally handling $840,000 for a drug dealer and one-time law client and received a two-year prison term.

His hands clasped behind his back, Huddles, 58, stood in a federal courtroom in Baltimore and said he should have known better.

"I would just like to say I have done many things in my life of which I am very proud," he told U.S. District Judge William M. Nickerson. "I did not read the danger signals that should have been evident. For this, I stand before this court."

Nickerson said it was unfortunate that Huddles had ruined his life. By pleading guilty to what prosecutors described as money-laundering, a felony, Huddles will lose the right to vote and hold elected office. He also probably will lose his license to practice law.

Huddles' lawyer, Robert B. Schulman, disputed the use of the term "money laundering." He said Huddles pleaded guilty to engaging in monetary transactions with criminally derived property.

"It's very sad that Mr. Huddles' ability and promise has been foolishly compromised," the judge said.

Nickerson then accepted a plea deal Huddles' attorneys forged with federal prosecutors. It calls for Huddles to serve two years in prison, followed by three years of probation. While serving the probation, Huddles must forfeit $586,500 to the federal government.

As a former politician and well-known lawyer, Huddles made a critical mistake two years ago that led to his downfall. He became involved with a cocaine trafficker, according to court records.

Huddles had known drug dealer Michael Luria, 34, for years, providing legal help to him and members of his family, prosecutors said. Beginning in May 1995, Huddles began to borrow large sums of money from Luria, and by June 1996, he had received $840,000.

When Luria was arrested on drug charges last year, he hired Huddles to represent him. Then, Luria turned on his lawyer. He told investigators that Huddles had been borrowing the profits from his cocaine business, according to court records and prosecutors. Baltimore County drug detectives and Internal Revenue Service agents began to investigate.

"Luria thought the money was being invested for him," Assistant U.S. Attorney Lisa M. Griffin said. "Mr. Huddles had other reasons for borrowing it."

Investigators learned that Huddles deposited the cash into his checking account and used it to pay personal expenses and to make investments and loans.

Griffin told the judge yesterday that she would have been able to prove during a trial that Huddles knew the cash came from Luria's cocaine business

Luria pleaded guilty in Baltimore County to cocaine charges Jan. 27. As a cooperating witness in several drug investigations, Luria received an eight-year suspended prison term and five years' probation, records show.

Huddles began his career as an assistant state's attorney before turning to politics. As a Democrat from Pikesville, he became Baltimore County's first four-term council member, holding the seat from 1970 to 1986.

Huddles was a rising star in local politics and considering a run for county executive or Congress when his career was derailed in June 1985 -- the year of the Maryland savings and loan scandal.

It was revealed that Huddles had received a $60,000 unsecured loan in 1982 from a subsidiary of a thrift controlled by his friend, Jeffrey A. Levitt, whose later thefts from Old Court Savings and Loan contributed to the collapse of the state's S&L system.

Huddles quickly repaid the loan, plus $24,900 in interest.

But in August 1985, the FBI announced that it was investigating whether a link existed between the loan and Huddles' vote granting apartment density zoning to Levitt-controlled property in Pikesville.

Two years later, the FBI cleared Huddles, but the political damage had been done. Huddles announced that he would never again seek elective office.

In 1991, Huddles was back in trouble with the law. But he was acquitted of charges that he took more than $50,000 from his campaign fund in 1987 and deposited the cash in his bank account to cover stock investments.

At yesterday's hearing, the judge ordered Huddles to report in 60 days to the federal prison in Goldsboro, N.C.

Pub Date: 7/22/97

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