Curran's aid sought in Young inquiry Office turns down role in ethics probe

conflict is cited

December 18, 1997|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Peter Jensen contributed to this article.

The General Assembly's presiding officers asked the Maryland attorney general's office for help with an ethics investigation of Sen. Larry Young but have been told the office cannot get involved.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. asked Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. to provide a lawyer to help the Assembly's ethics committee as it investigates Young's business dealings for possible violations of state ethics law, Miller and others confirmed yesterday.

But Curran informed them that his office is already assisting the state prosecutor in a separate criminal investigation of Young, which would prohibit his staff from participating in a civil inquiry in Annapolis, officials said.

Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr., the ethics committee chairman, asked the presiding officers for permission to hire outside help almost two weeks ago, but the legislative leaders suggested that Curran's office be enlisted instead.

Montague has said he believes the committee needs help as it sorts through the complicated and politically sensitive case -- especially if the panel is to meet the presiding officers' directive that it conclude its work by Jan. 14, the start of the Assembly's annual 90-day session.

Montague said last night that he still favors bringing in outside help.

"The preference I have is that we have some additional experience engage with us as we sift through the files and perhaps even prepare for testimony," said Montague, a Baltimore Democrat.

The committee has asked Young, also a Baltimore Democrat, to appear before it on Jan. 6 to answer some 20 potential violations of ethics laws.

Taylor declined to comment, but Miller said yesterday that in the face of Curran's decision, he was willing to provide whatever resources the ethics committee says it needs.

But the matter remains unresolved with less than a month before the Assembly's self-imposed deadline -- a deadline some lawmakers say is unrealistic.

Curran told legislators that his taking a role in the ethics inquiry could taint the attorney general's involvement in any subsequent criminal prosecution of Young, officials said.

Curran's office declined to discuss the issue in detail.

"We could not participate in a civil investigation because of a conflict," said Carmen M. Shepard, a deputy attorney general. "But I can't comment further."

Curran's office saw another conflict because it has concluded it may be involved in other legal matters involving Young; the attorney general also represents state agencies such as Coppin State College, which has had controversial financial dealings with Young.

The ethics committee inquiry was sparked by an article in The Sun outlining how Young has used his legislative position to benefit three companies he created.

His LY Group, for example, received thousands of dollars in fees from Merit Behavioral Care Corp., a mental health company that does business with the state. Young failed to report the fees to the ethics committee.

Similarly, he did not report receiving $33,500 he collected from NTC Coppin State under a no-bid consulting contract that paid him as much as $300 per hour. The contract was canceled recently by state education officials.

Young also has used his taxpayer-funded district office to run his private companies, The Sun reported.

Young has denied any wrongdoing and has said that he welcomes an ethics committee investigation.

Two attorneys on the General Assembly's staff are assigned part time to the ethics committee, but some committee members were concerned that the investigation would be too time-consuming for them to handle.

In addition, Montague and others worried about the prospect of staff attorneys interrogating Young, because the attorneys could have to work with Young on legislative matters unrelated to the ethics issue.

Pub Date: 12/18/97

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