Taylor's reported role in Md. land deal didn't violate laws, ethics panel rules No formal investigation will be conducted, committee decides

March 12, 1998|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

The legislature's ethics committee concluded last night that House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr.'s reported role in a Western Maryland land deal violated no state laws, and the panel decided not to conduct a formal investigation into it.

Committee members met behind closed doors for nearly two hours to consider a newspaper report that Taylor had inappropriately intervened in the land deal on behalf of a friend, before emerging with the news that they were ending their inquiry.

On a unanimous vote, with one member absent, the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics concluded that "there is no basis for further action on this matter," said Sen. Michael J. Collins, the Baltimore County Democrat who co-chairs the committee.

"Based on the information before us, the joint committee found that the issues raised in the news media reports do not allege any violation of those laws, rules or standards" governing members of the General Assembly, Collins said.

"Until we have an allegation, there is nothing for us to proceed on," said Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr., a Baltimore Democrat and committee co-chairman.

The panel sent a three-paragraph letter to Taylor last night informing him of the committee's action.

"Obviously I think it's a wonderful decision," Taylor said afterward. "It's been very difficult on me. It's been very difficult on my family. It's behind me, and I'm looking forward to continuing to work, not only for Western Maryland, but for all of Maryland."

Collins said that he asked Jervis S. Finney, a former federal prosecutor, to review the Taylor case independently and that Finney came to the same conclusion as the committee.

Finney led ethics investigations earlier this year into the business dealings of two members of the General Assembly -- probes that resulted in Larry Young being expelled from the Senate and Gerald J. Curran resigning from the House of Delegates.

Before last night's meeting, Taylor submitted a letter to the committee strongly refuting a Feb. 27 report in the Washington Post. The article said that he improperly tried to influence state officials to help Cumberland businessman James J. Oberhaus win a deal to swap land in exchange for potentially lucrative coal-mining rights.

In the seven-page letter, Taylor dismissed the article as "a specious attempt to create an image of wrongdoing."

The article "did not accurately portray my role in representing my constituents and left the false impression that I had done something inappropriate," the Allegany County Democrat wrote. "Nothing could be further from the truth."

According to the article, Taylor intervened with state officials and an appraiser to help Oberhaus, a longtime friend.

The terms of the arrangement will over time bring the state about $1 million less than it should have collected, according to Henry F. Moomau, the appraiser involved in the deal.

Taylor has acknowledged that he called Moomau, but only to urge him to conclude his work quickly -- not to pressure him into altering his appraisals.

Initially, Taylor said he would not refer the matter to the ethics committee because there was no suggestion that he personally benefited in the deal or had violated state ethics laws.

In examining ethics issues, however, the committee is not bound by the recommendations of the House speaker or Senate president. Montague later urged the panel to review the article.

Pub Date: 3/12/98

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