The Maryland General Assembly will undertake one of its most serious investigations in decades today, when its ethics committee begins questioning Sen. Larry Young about possible wrongdoing in his business activities.
The Young probe, which prompted the committee to hire an independent counsel, promises to be the focus of intense media attention and could well overshadow many of the other issues facing the legislature this year -- at least in the early days -- once its annual 90-day session convenes Jan. 14.
The legislature's 12-member Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics will meet behind closed doors to hear Young's explanations of at least 20 possible ethics violations. The inquiry stems from an investigation by The Sun, which reported last month that he has used his position to benefit three corporations he created.
"These are very serious allegations and could have very serious implications for Senator Young, if they are substantiated," said Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr., the Baltimore Democrat who chairs the legislative ethics committee.
Gregg L. Bernstein, a lawyer representing Young, said yesterday that the Baltimore Democrat was looking forward to meeting with the committee to present his side of the story.
"Senator Young is anxious to speak on his behalf and personally address the joint committee and provide his response to each of the allegations," Bernstein said.
The independent counsel, Jervis S. Finney, a Republican former state senator and federal prosecutor, will lead the questioning of Young. The proceeding will be tape-recorded, but no testimony will be taken under oath.
Montague said yesterday that lawyers for Young have submitted additional documents since Friday, when the committee chairman complained that Young had produced less than 10 percent of what the panel had requested for its probe.
Montague said he was still reviewing the new documents.
Bernstein said, "We've produced the documents we think are responsive to each of the specific allegations made by the joint committee."
The Assembly's presiding officers -- Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. -- have asked the committee to try to report back to them on its inquiry into Young's dealings before the session begins. Montague has said he expects the committee to have its report completed by then.
The ethics committee is charged with determining whether legislators have violated any aspect of the state ethics law, a civil rather than criminal infraction.
An inquiry by the panel can lead to recommendations that a lawmaker be disciplined by the legislature or even expelled. Because Young is a senator, the full Senate would have to vote on any disciplinary action, though the president could strip him of his leadership positions and change his committee assignments.
Young is chairman of an influential health subcommittee and of the Executive Nominations Committee, which must approve hundreds of the governor's patronage appointments.
Supporters of Young, most conspicuously Del. Clarence M. Mitchell IV, have threatened to demonstrate and resort to acts of civil disobedience in Annapolis if his Senate positions are affected as a result of the investigation.
Miller said he did not feel any pressure as a result of the threats to demonstrate.
"It's premature to speculate prior to the hearing and the conclusion of the ethics committee and the findings of the independent counsel," he said.
"If the findings are of a minor nature, then mostly they will be dealt with by myself and the Senate leadership," he said. "If they are more serious, they will quite likely be referred to the entire Senate. If they are of a criminal nature, then they will be referred to the special prosecutor."
The investigation by The Sun prompted the formal inquiry, as well as a separate criminal investigation by the state prosecutor's office that is continuing.
Last month, the newspaper reported that Young used his legislative position to benefit the corporations he controls.
His LY Group, for example, received thousands of dollars in fees from Merit Behavioral Care Corp., a mental health company that now does business with the state. Young did not report that arrangement to the ethics committee or to the State Ethics Commission. The legislative panel will determine whether he should have disclosed it.
Similarly, he did not report to the ethics committee that he had a no-bid consulting contract with Coppin State College that paid him as much as $300 an hour. He did, however, report that contract to the State Ethics Commission. State education officials canceled the contract last month.
Young also has used his taxpayer-funded district office to run his private companies, The Sun reported.
In addition, the paper reported late last month that the owner of a Baltimore ambulance company, which collected more than $750,000 between 1995 and 1996 in state Medicaid payments, bought a $24,800 Lincoln Town Car for Young two years ago. Again, the senator made no disclosure of the car -- or of a loan he later received from Harbor Bank, using the Lincoln as collateral.
Montague has refused to provide The Sun with a copy of the allegations about Young being investigated by the committee or the list of documents sought by the committee, and Bernstein has refused to make public Young's responses to the panel.
The committee also sought documents from The Sun that were gathered in the course of reporting articles on Young. As a matter of policy, the newspaper refused to provide them.
Pub Date: 1/06/98