Young answers ethics panel Md. senator responds to allegations against him in closed session

January 07, 1998|By Thomas W. Waldron and JoAnna Daemmrich | Thomas W. Waldron and JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer C. Fraser Smith contributed to this article.

Fighting to protect his legislative reputation, state Sen. Larry Young defended himself yesterday against allegations that he violated ethics laws by using his office to benefit his personal business.

In a five-hour session before the General Assembly's ethics committee that was closed to the public and the news media, Young answered questions and presented documents to try to refute more than 20 potential violations the panel identified last month.

"I am very happy that, finally, after many weeks, I've had the opportunity to present my side of the issues," Young told reporters after the hearing concluded last night. He declined to comment further.

Lawmakers and others said Young answered steadily as committee members and the panel's independent counsel, former U.S. attorney Jervis S. Finney, questioned him about everything from the use of his district office for businesses he runs to his $24,800 Lincoln Town Car, which was paid for by a Baltimore ambulance company owner.

Members of the committee declined to say whether Young had cleared himself.

Asked if Young had provided a "full response" to the committee's questions, Del. Kenneth C. Montague, co-chairman of the ethics panel, said: "I'm sure we got the full response Senator Young wanted to give us."

Sen. Michael J. Collins, the other co-chairman, said not all members found Young's answers "satisfactory."

"The committee was satisfied that answers were given to all the questions that were asked," said Collins, a Baltimore County Democrat. "I'm not sure that we're convinced that they were all satisfactory answers."

He declined to elaborate on the remarks.

The 12-member ethics panel, which includes nine Democrats and three Republicans, will meet tomorrow to begin assessing the case. Montague said the committee will finish its report by the Jan. 14 deadline set by House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.

The presiding officers hope to have the Young matter resolved by that date, the beginning of the legislature's annual 90-day session, to avoid having the ethics investigation overshadow lawmaking.

The committee began its inquiry after The Sun reported last month that Young had used his position to benefit three companies he created.

Also prompted by The Sun's investigation of Young, the Maryland state prosecutor's office began probing the Baltimore Democrat's business and legislative affairs, an inquiry that is ongoing.

While the ethics committee is weighing possible civil violations of ethics laws, the prosecutor is investigating whether Young may have broken any criminal statutes.

Young, who has declared in news conferences that he has done nothing wrong, elected to keep the ethics committee proceedings closed to the public. He has also refused repeated requests to be interviewed by The Sun.

The newspaper reported that Young's LY Group received thousands of dollars in fees from Merit Behavioral Care Corp., a ++ mental health company that does business with the state. Young, who chairs the Senate Finance health subcommittee, failed to report the fees to the ethics committee.

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

As the hearing began, Young set several files, as well as newspaper clippings and a videotape on the table in front of him. The video -- described as showing how his office space is divided between his LY Group and his legislative district office -- was not shown.

Young produced receipts yesterday which he said show that he had separate leases and separate telephone lines for his legislative and business affairs, sources said.

He told the committee that his work for Merit did not pose a conflict because the company was not doing business in Maryland at the time, according to some present.

Young called one witness, a representative of the owner of the West Baltimore building that houses his business and legislative offices, lawmakers said.

A second potential witness, a state legislator from Tennessee, arrived in Annapolis just after the hearing concluded. He had been expected to talk about the activities of the National Black Health Study Group, an organization founded and run by Young.

The group relies on contributions from health-related companies, raising a potential conflict with Young's activities on health care matters in the Assembly.

Gregg L. Bernstein, one of Young's attorneys, said the committee seemed to understand that all lawmakers face potential conflicts between their private and public activities.

"They understand the position [Young] is in, trying to balance his public persona and his private endeavors," said Bernstein.

Before the hearing, Young and 31 supporters sang "We Shall Overcome," an anthem of the civil rights movement, and prayed for several minutes underneath a statue of former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall that stands near the State House.

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