Ethics panel to review report on Taylor action

March 05, 1998|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

The legislature's ethics committee will review a newspaper report that House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. inappropriately intervened in a Western Maryland land deal, the panel's co-chairman said yesterday.

Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr., the co-chairman, said the committee typically reviews any articles or broadcast reports that suggest a legislator may have acted improperly.

"As a matter of routine policy, whenever a member has allegations made of impropriety in the media, we look at that," said Montague, a Baltimore Democrat.

The Washington Post reported last week that Taylor helped James Oberhaus, a Cumberland businessman and longtime friend, complete a deal involving a swap of land with the state in return for potentially lucrative coal-mining rights.

When the article appeared Friday, Taylor denied doing anything improper and said he saw no reason as House speaker to refer the matter to the ethics committee. The panel can decide itself to review any ethics question involving a legislator.

Yesterday, Taylor, an Allegany County Democrat, said he welcomed an ethics review.

"Sure, that's part of their job," he said, when asked about the prospect. "The ethics committee looks at everything involving any one of us that appears in the public domain."

Sen. Michael J. Collins, the other co-chairman of the 12-member committee, said he had been unaware of Montague's interest in reviewing the matter, but said the committee would do so if asked.

He added that he does not believe the article identified any apparent violation of state ethics law. "I did not personally detect ethics laws violations, and I don't know anyone who did," said Collins, a Baltimore County Democrat.

In his efforts to help Oberhaus in 1994, Taylor has acknowledged he made two calls to an appraiser who was involved in setting values for the land to be traded.

Taylor said he was simply urging the appraiser to act quickly to conclude the deal. The appraiser, Henry F. Moomau of Garrett County, said that he felt pressure from Taylor and other state officials to come up with appraisals more favorable to Oberhaus.

Citing confidentiality provisions in state law, Montague declined to say if he thought Taylor might have broken any ethics statutes. Neither would he discuss how the committee might proceed or whether the review might lead to a full investigation.

The committee has not scheduled any meetings to discuss the Taylor matter, Collins said.

Pub Date: 3/05/98

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