Decision on Young likely tomorrow Ethics committee staff preparing report on probe into senator's businesses

January 11, 1998|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer JoAnna Daemmrich contributed to this article.

As the General Assembly prepared to return to Annapolis, staffers for its ethics committee worked through the weekend preparing a draft report on an investigation into the business dealings of Sen. Larry Young.

The 12-member Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics is likely to reach a decision tomorrow about whether the West Baltimore Democrat violated state ethics laws and, if so, what to recommend as punishment.

On Friday, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller hastily scheduled a meeting of Senate leaders for 4 p.m. tomorrow to discuss the matter. Young, now in his 24th year in office, faces allegations reported in The Sun last month that he used his position to benefit his personal businesses.

"I'm certain that no final votes have been taken by the ethics committee -- work continues to be done -- but I also believe there's a strong possibility that their work can be wrapped up by Monday," Miller said yesterday.

The Prince George's County Democrat declined to speculate on the committee's findings, but said he expected Senate leadership to take up the question of disciplining Young tomorrow "if I have a report by that time and if I have a recommendation."

The General Assembly begins its annual 90-day session Wednesday. But before taking up the business of lawmaking, legislators must grapple with the politically charged Young issue.

Judging a colleague is a difficult task at any time, but it is particularly troublesome for lawmakers in an election year. They know that a finding against Young has the potential to tarnish all 188 members of the legislature -- as well as Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening -- solely by association.

"This is a painful issue for everyone in the legislature," said Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr., the Baltimore Democrat who is chairing the ethics committee's investigation.

"If any of this comes out to be true, they are rightfully concerned that it may carry over to them," Montague said.

Young, flanked by his lawyers, appeared for five hours Tuesday before the ethics committee behind closed doors to defend himself against more than 20 allegations of wrongdoing.

Members of the committee met privately again Thursday, emerging from a 9 1/2 -hour session saying that they had not reached a consensus on the charges.

But the panel was clearly far enough along in its deliberations to ask its staff to draft a report for consideration when the committee meets tomorrow at 1 p.m.

Staff members, led by the committee's co-chairmen and its independent counsel, Jervis S. Finney, a former state senator and U.S. attorney, worked on the draft in Annapolis yesterday and were expected to continue today.

Some action could come as early as tomorrow afternoon, the -soonest Miller and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. could receive the committee's final report and recommendations.

After Miller receives the report, he will confer with Senate leaders, explain what he plans to do and chart a course of action for the Senate, he said.

The committee's final report would be released to the press, but only after Young was given a copy, he said.

Miller confirmed that he called Young on Friday to let him know of the leadership meeting. He said Young, who is on Miller's leadership team, would not be attending the meeting.

He declined to comment on possible disciplinary action, calling it "premature."

Depending on the ethics committee's findings, Miller could strip Young of his two chairmanships -- of a powerful health subcommittee and of the Executive Nominations Committee -- prior to putting the matter before the full Senate for a vote on other possible disciplinary action.

That could include expulsion from the Senate, censure, reprimand -- or nothing at all.

An investigation by The Sun prompted the committee's formal ** inquiry, as well as a separate criminal probe by the state prosecutor's office that is continuing.

Last month, the newspaper reported that Young used his legislative position to benefit three companies he controls.

His LY Group, for example, received thousands of dollars in fees from Merit Behavioral Care Corp., a mental health care company that does business with the state. Young did not report that 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 has also 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 did not disclose that.

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