Ethics panel launches inquiry Young's businesses, use of public money will be examined

Criminal probe also begins

Senate president says he has received similar complaints

December 04, 1997|By Scott Higham and Walter F. Roche Jr. | Scott Higham and Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Thomas W. Waldron contributed to this article.

Maryland's top lawmakers announced yesterday they have launched an ethics probe into state Sen. Larry Young and his outside business interests, and law enforcement sources said that the State Prosecutor's Office has opened a criminal investigation into the senator's conduct.

The probes come in response to a two-month investigation published by The Sun yesterday that reported the powerful politician has been capitalizing on his public position to generate consulting and other fees from institutions and health care firms with millions at stake in the General Assembly.

The paper also reported that Young -- who chairs the Senate Finance Health Subcommittee -- has been using publicly paid employees to work for several corporations he controls, while using tax dollars to subsidize the rent and phone bills of those corporations.

In an hourlong news conference yesterday morning, Young denied the report and said he planned to sue the newspaper.

He accused reporters of spying on his staff, wiretapping his phone lines and carrying out a racist campaign against him and other African-Americans.

"It's very clear to me there are double standards," the West Baltimore Democrat said. "I believe there is a racial component in this."

Young's staff barred the two Sun reporters who wrote yesterday's article from attending the news conference.

John S. Carroll, editor of The Sun, declined to discuss the threatened lawsuit because it hasn't been filed, and he said The Sun's article was a good example of a newspaper's fulfilling its mission in a democratic society -- to scrutinize government.

"Our sole motive is to present significant information about how a public official conducts himself in public office," Carroll said.

"This is our job, and we are committed to doing it without prejudice or favoritism of any kind."

Yesterday's newspaper report prompted Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller to call for the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee to examine Young, his business interests and whether he has abused his office and violated state conflict-of-interest laws.

The panel, staffed by six delegates and six senators from both political parties, will investigate the senator and then prepare a final report before the start of the 1998 legislative session in January.

The ethics panel can take a number of steps, from clearing Young to sanctioning him or expelling him from the Senate.

Miller said he was concerned by The Sun's findings.

"Public office is a public trust," he said. "In order for the Senate to continue to function as a legislative body, we need the confidence of the electorate."

Miller said he told Young earlier that he planned to convene the ethics panel.

Miller said he had been receiving complaints from legislators and others about Young's outside business interests, prompting him to ask Young in August to explain the roles he plays in several corporations he controls.

Launching a legislative probe, Miller said yesterday, is the best way to determine whether Young has crossed any ethical lines or whether he has been operating within the provisions of the state's ethics laws.

"It is time that an independent forum look into these matters," Miller said, "and clear the air once and for all."

Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr., a Baltimore Democrat who will preside over the ethics panel, said committee members will carefully comb through the facts before reaching any conclusions.

"The charges themselves, if they were confirmed as reported, could be very serious," Montague said. "But there are some gray areas, and certain specific facts could change the tenor of everything."

Young said he looks forward to the ethics investigation.

"I think the president's taking the right action," Young said yesterday during Alan Prell's WBAL radio show. "I welcome the opportunity to fully answer these allegations."

Also yesterday, law enforcement sources said they have opened a criminal investigation into Young's conduct, examining his outside business interests and his legislative expenses, which are paid by Maryland taxpayers.

The sources said state investigators have already reviewed rent, phone and other expense records for Young's 44th District office at 200 S. Arlington Ave. near the B&O Railroad Museum, and they are starting to question former members of Young's staff.

The investigators are focusing on whether Young violated state criminal statutes, the sources said.

State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli declined to comment yesterday.

"We can't discuss confidential matters within our office," he said.

Sen. Michael J. Collins, a Baltimore County Democrat who will co-chair the ethics panel, said he and other members of the committee will work with any law en- forcement agencies that decide to investigate Young.

"We will go wherever the law and the inquiry takes us," Collins said.

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