Young's red herrings dot path to truth

December 04, 1997|By MICHAEL OLESKER

STATE Sen. Larry Young is faced with an awkward thing, which is called the truth, and yesterday he faced up to some of it, and danced around some of it, and some of it, he tried to block at the front door.

In this newspaper yesterday, the news about Young was all bad, and it was spread prominently across several pages. It involved large amounts of money taken by the influential West Baltimore legislator and his private business, the LY Group, and it involved what looks like clear and remarkable conflicts of interest.

Young's response was to call a news conference, ostensibly to clear the air. But the air was sometimes filled with nonanswers, and sometimes with Young's own accusations, neither of which got anyone closer to some essential truths about the line separating public service from private profit.

"It is no accident," Young opened his remarks, "that this story comes on the heels of a very successful effort, my Revival Crusade, where we brought 50,000 folks here over a two-day period."

Huh?

Young then veered away from this but a moment later talked about a colleague who was smeared -- "no accident," he said, "that he is African-American" -- and went from this to the Chamber of Commerce's failure to hire black staff members.

Huh?

These are known as red herrings. Maybe Young is right, and maybe he's wrong, but the news yesterday was about something else: about Young and his corporations generating at least $165,000 in various fees from public institutions and health care companies that are hungry to reap millions of dollars in state business.

To this, Young prepared his own printed list of questions and answers. This beat the alternative, which was answering questions from the two Sun reporters, Walter F. Roche Jr. and Scott Higham, who spent the past two months investigating Young's finances. Young refused to answer their questions before their article appeared, and yesterday, they were barred from Young's news conference.

"It's my press conference," Young said, later adding, "I just decided I didn't want to be around those two guys."

Of course not. They've thrown a glaring light on the kind of money trails that no politician wishes to have examined. And it's not the way Larry Young wishes to be seen.

He is one of the brightest, and one of the hardest-working, legislators in the state of Maryland. Also, he has a genuine feel for his constituents, among whom are some of the neediest citizens in the state. He's their champion, in ways that other politicians only pretend to understand.

But he's also led a life of close calls and sometimes breathtaking untidiness, including a terrible unsolved murder case in which homicide police called Young a "key figure" in their investigation, plus a history of various fund-raising problems and ethical conflicts.

Take this latest business. In Young's own list of printed "allegations and truths," he answers the charge of taking thousands of dollars from Merit Behavioral Care Corp. and billing Merit $5,000 per hour. He answers the charges by declaring that the money went to "LY Group, Inc. not me."

But the LY Group is Larry Young, and Young is the LY Group, right down to their common initials. Was he now attempting to separate himself from his own company and its profits?

"I am separating the two," Young said, sidestepping some of his own written correspondence, which proudly boasts of Young's "23 years in politics" as a selling point to prospective LY Group clients.

This Merit company is worth remembering, too. It's in New York. It's the one that flew Gov. Parris Glendening up there and held a fund-raiser for him. Glendening said he didn't know the company was bidding on a state contract.

Also attending the party: Larry Young, whose professional business is knowing precisely which health companies want to do business with this state, because he chairs the Senate Finance Health Subcommittee. After yesterday's news conference, Young said it was "coincidence" that he attended the New York affair, that he had a friend who invited him to the party.

If the Merit relationship sounds shaky, try this: Young draws consulting fees from Coppin State College. In the past two years, he's received $33,500 from the college. But the General Assembly OKs the state's $13.8 million share of Coppin's annual budget.

Isn't there a conflict, Young was asked. Suppose Coppin wants money for a new building, and Young the state senator thinks it's unaffordable but Young the private consultant doesn't want to vote against it and risk losing his private consulting fees?

"I see nothing wrong with this," Young declared.

Others may disagree, including the Senate Ethics Committee and the state prosecutor, each of which is beginning to ask its own questions.

Pub Date: 12/04/97

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