Young didn't report gift car Ambulance company chief bought Lincoln for senator in 1995

December 20, 1997|By SCOTT HIGHAM, WALTER F. ROCHE JR., AND WILLIAM F. ZORZI JR. | SCOTT HIGHAM, WALTER F. ROCHE JR., AND WILLIAM F. ZORZI JR.,SUN STAFF Sun news researcher Dee Lyons contributed to this article.

The chief of a Baltimore ambulance company bought a $24,800 luxury Lincoln Town Car for state Sen. Larry Young, and the senator never reported the transaction to state and legislative ethics panels.

Young, who chairs a powerful health subcommittee, received the car courtesy of Willie Runyon, owner of American Ambulance & Oxygen Service, which collects hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in state Medicaid payments.

Runyon said in an interview this week that he provided Young with the Lincoln Town Car EX while the senator was working for him two years ago. He said the car was part of Young's compensation and that the senator used it to conduct business for the ambulance company.

"He was doing collections for me," Runyon said. "That was part of his salary."

But Young didn't receive a title for the car until November 1995, four months after the senator stated in state ethics disclosure forms that he had stopped working as Runyon's assistant at American Ambulance.

Using the Lincoln as collateral, Young took out a $20,397.60 loan from Harbor Bank on Jan. 18, 1996, records show. He continues to use the blue, four-door sedan. Young is frequently seen in the car with 44th District senatorial license plates as his aides, serving as chauffeurs, drive him to appointments around the city and state.

Young's attorney, Gregg L. Bernstein, said this week that he and his client are trying to figure out whether the receipt of the car is something that should have been disclosed to state and legislative ethics panels. He declined to say how Young used the proceeds of the Harbor Bank loan.

Disclosures about the Lincoln come in the midst of investigations into Young's outside business dealings by a legislative ethics committee and state prosecutors. The probes follow an investigation by The Sun, which reported that Young has been collecting consulting fees and other payments from institutions and health care companies with millions at stake in state business.

One of those companies is American Ambulance. Between 1995 and 1996, the company, based on North Avenue, collected more than $750,000 in state payments for transporting Medicaid patients. Runyon, his family members and his company have donated tens of thousands of dollars to Young's political and personal causes over the years, records show.

Position of influence

As chairman of the Senate Finance Health Subcommittee, Young is in a position to act on legislation that can influence the way the state regulates and pays companies like American Ambulance. Young worked for Runyon between 1991 and 1995, the year the senator became chairman of the subcommittee.

Under state ethics laws, legislators are required to disclose outside income, gifts and loans from individuals and corporations with business at stake before the General Assembly.

A legislator's judgment can be impaired, the law says, by "soliciting, accepting, or agreeing to accept any gift, loan, or payment of a significant value from a person who would be affected by or has an interest in an enterprise which would be affected by the legislator's vote on proposed legislation."

Lawmakers can avoid the appearance of impropriety by filing disclosures with the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee in Annapolis and the State Ethics Commission in Towson. Under state law, lawmakers are required to describe the circumstances of the potential conflict and how they can objectively participate in legislation pending before the General Assembly.

Disclosures

In December 1991, Young disclosed to the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee that he had accepted a position to work for Runyon and American Ambulance. "I will monitor and exempt myself if the occasion arises," the senator promised the panel.

Although Young routinely disclosed his American Ambulance employment, he never revealed that he received the Lincoln Town Car, state and legislative records show.

In a sworn ethics statement filed on April 30, 1996, Young stated: "I stop serving as assistant to the president (of) American Ambulance Co. as of July, 1995."

'I made a phone call'

Young picked up the Lincoln from Dulaney Motor Co. in Timonium on Nov. 20, 1995, five days before his 46th birthday, according to state motor vehicle records.

Runyon said he paid for the car.

"I didn't go over there. I made a phone call," Runyon said. "I asked if they had a car for him, like I would for anyone and they went over to look at it."

At the time, the Lincoln was less than a year old, with 21,436 miles.

Runyon said he couldn't recall "whether [Young] paid it off, or worked it off, or what." He said Young took out a loan, but Runyon wasn't sure whether the senator borrowed the money to repay him, or whether it was a personal loan, with the Lincoln used as collateral.

The Lincoln is not the first vehicle the Runyon family provided to Young.

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