Finney carries some baggage as investigator

December 28, 1997|By MICHAEL OLESKER

WHAT A FRIEND we have in Jervis.

With nary another wise man to be found in all of Maryland, the great thinkers in Annapolis last week trotted out Jervis Finney, former U.S. attorney, former state senator and full-time paragon of virtue, to investigate the shadow life of state Sen. Larry Young.

Young is accused, mainly by this newspaper, of various conflicts of interest. Finney is accused of being pure of heart. Young is accused of using his political muscle for private gain. Finney is accused of being a seeker of simple truth.

Before this goes any further, I'd like to bring the record up to date. Not Young's record -- Finney's. Young's record is tricky enough, but Finney's got a little baggage of his own, and no matter that state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, announcing Finney's appointment, called him "a person of unquestioned integrity."

Actually, I have a few questions. Mike Miller may not have questions, because Miller's stood so close to Larry Young, and Parris Glendening has stood so close to Larry Young, that right now they're getting second-degree limelight burns, and they're looking to throw some attention on somebody else.

So let's give a little to Finney, who now emerges from his private law practice to look into reports that Young used his legislative position to enrich three private companies he created.

Finney's looked at such conflicts before. He was appointed U.S. attorney for Maryland in 1975, when that office was flush in the middle of its very own legend. They'd gotten Spiro Agnew in the White House, and they'd gotten Dale Anderson in Baltimore County and Joe Alton in Anne Arundel County, and under Finney, they would go after Marvin Mandel, the governor of Maryland.

They got him, though eventually Mandel's conviction was overturned on appeal. Also, along the way, they got an attitude. This was an office where arrogance had its day, where prosecutorial egos strutted their stuff.

Some of it, you could witness in courtrooms. Some may still recall the first Mandel trial, where a federal judge had to caution the aggressive prosecutor Barnet Skolnik, "I want you to be more humble."

I saw it in a different way. I saw when Jervis Finney decided, in the spring of 1975, that he wished to go after me. He threatened, over months of pressuring, to put me in jail if I didn't reveal certain confidential sources.

I was writing about the Internal Revenue Service, and the city police intelligence division, each of which was trampling on people's civil liberties. They were collecting information on people's personal lives -- their drinking habits, their political beliefs, their sexual persuasions. Some of this, I was told, they were getting with questionable electronic surveillance.

Most of the allegations against city police were investigated by a state Senate committee, whose findings backed up the newspaper articles and uncovered plenty of new stuff. But, in the course of their investigation, there came a private telephone conversation between me and Diane Schulte, who was the committee's chief counsel. Nobody else knew about the conversation, we thought.

Within hours, a source of mine in the IRS intelligence unit called me -- and repeated the entire phone conversation I'd had with Schulte. He said he'd been in the room when IRS agents had reviewed it. They wanted to know who was talking to me.

Finney's response to all this? He went after me. He said I was impugning the integrity of the IRS, a statement somewhat ironic since, at the same time, then-IRS Commissioner Donald Alexander was testifying before the U.S. House Committee on Government Operations.

Alexander was admitting that his agency's people improperly used bugging devices, hiding them in such places as telephones, lunch boxes and Chapsticks, and he admitted that more than a thousand IRS agents had been trained in lock-picking and telephone monitoring, even though the IRS' own rules prohibited wiretapping, and he admitted that the names of nearly a half-million Americans had been filed in an IRS system focusing largely on people's personal lives, not their taxes.

A lot of those files, it developed, were on Marylanders, people who hadn't necessarily committed a crime but had their lives scrutinized, anyway, by IRS agents.

Well, it was all such a long time ago. Finney and I met for two hours one afternoon that summer and had it out, after which he stopped threatening to put me in jail. The state Senate committee later turned over lots of material to him, transcripts, affidavits, direct testimony. He subpoenaed no one, and issued a letter to the Justice Department saying he could find no basis for any charges.

So now he'll look into the charges against Larry Young. Am I implying he'll kiss these off? Certainly not. Nobody questions Jervis Finney's integrity; I read about it in the newspaper just the other day.

But, when I saw the words, I also realized, there's no statute of limitations on my memory.

Pub Date: 12/28/97

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