Young aide allegedly shredded files amid corruption probe Francis refuses to confirm or deny the accusations

June 19, 1998|By Scott Higham | Scott Higham,SUN STAFF

Facing a critical deadline in a probe that would eventually lead to Larry Young's expulsion from the General Assembly, one of his top aides shredded file folders full of documents from the former senator's West Baltimore field office, sources have told The Sun.

The sources, two of whom have direct knowledge of the alleged shredding, provided the newspaper with detailed accounts about how Young's former aide, John H. Francis, allegedly shredded the records on Dec. 19, 1997. The sources declined to be identified because they said they fear retribution.

At the time of the alleged shredding, the ethics committee was requesting numerous documents from Young, and the state prosecutor's office had launched a corruption probe into his office and outside business practices.

Francis, who no longer works for Young, declined in an interview to confirm or deny that he shredded records at the former senator's request.

"I'm not going to answer any questions," he said. "I don't have anything to offer at this point."

His refusal to answer questions left unclear what documents are missing and how important they might have been to investigators. Young is the focus of two grand jury investigations -- one coordinated by the U.S. attorney's office; the other by the state prosecutor's office.

Young's lawyer denied that his client directed anyone to shred documents.

"It's ludicrous," attorney Gregg L. Bernstein said yesterday. "The state ethics committee made a request for documents, and we provided the documents that they requested. I have absolutely no information that any documents were shredded."

The special counsel to the ethics panel, Jervis S. Finney, said this week that committee members never considered the possibility that Young or someone on his staff would destroy documents.

"Aside from the gross misconduct involved," Finney said, "this reflects an utter disrespect and scorn for the legislature itself, as well as for the simple truth."

Shredding documents could lead to possible criminal charges, including official misconduct and malicious destruction of state property, according to legal experts. It appears less likely that obstruction of justice charges could be pursued because there was no judicial proceeding or grand jury reviewing the case Dec. 19.

At the time of the alleged shredding, the state prosecutor's office was in the early stages of conducting a criminal inquiry into Young's activities. On Dec. 4, The Sun reported in a front-page article that state prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli had opened a criminal investigation. But the state did not convene a grand jury until several weeks later.

Montanarelli declined to comment about the alleged shredding or say whether it could result in additional charges being pursued by his agents. "I have no comment," he said yesterday.

State and federal agents are examining Young's outside business interests to determine whether he and the corporations he controlled benefited from the position he held as a senior legislator and health care expert in Annapolis.

State and federal grand juries have issued dozens of subpoenas demanding records and testimony from those who were once close to Young. The grand juries are examining Young's relationships to several health care companies, which provided him with gifts and consulting fees while Young chaired the Senate Health subcommittee.

The inquiries began when The Sun published a report Dec. 3, 1997, detailing Young's legislative activities and his outside businesses, which he ran out of his taxpayer-funded district office near the B&O Railroad Museum.

That day, the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics announced that it planned to examine the newspaper report and launch an investigation of the senator. As part of that inquiry, the committee set a Dec. 19 deadline for Young to voluntarily provide records in response to 20 allegations of ethical misconduct issued by the panel.

The committee accused Young of accepting fees and gifts from health care companies and others with business before the state; holding a no-bid consulting contract with Coppin State College; and using his state office as a base of operations for at least three corporations he controlled.

Before the Dec. 19 deadline, Young's attorneys requested an extension, saying they needed more time to gather the documents. The ethics panel eventually granted Young an extension until Dec. 24.

During the afternoon of Dec. 19, sources say Francis carried boxes and files of documents out of Young's second-floor office at 200 S. Arlington Ave. and walked down the hall to the office of Edward E. Fox Jr., who is president of Central Security Investigations and a member of Young's inner circle of friends and advisers.

Francis spent the rest of the day in Fox's office, shredding the records, the sources say.

Fox referred calls for comment to his attorney, Francis R. Laws, who said yesterday that his client told him there is "absolutely no truth to any of that. It's absolutely absurd."

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