Rumors, paper trail and footwork figured in Blount investigation Probe of Senate leader centered on residency

August 29, 1998|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

For two steamy days in July, four private investigators armed with radios, tape-recorders and a video camera ran a round-the-clock stakeout at the Northwest Baltimore house that the state Senate majority leader called home.

What did they find? Nothing. And that's what they were looking for.

"We're looking at this house," recalled Michael Widenhouse, president of Evergreen Security Inc., which conducted the investigation into Sen. Clarence W. Blount's residency, "and we're thinking, 'Yeah, the Senate majority leader lives on the second floor,' and you really don't expect anyone to show up. And they didn't."

The monthlong probe by private investigators, attorneys and Del. Frank D. Boston Jr. was sparked by rumors concerning Blount's residency. It culminated this week in a court ruling ordering him off the September Democratic primary ballot because he does not live in the district he represents. The ruling has been appealed to the state Court of Appeals.

But Boston has paid a heavy price for going after Blount, his opponent in the primary. He may have won the first court fight, but he has become a political pariah accused by some of being part of a master plan to knock the popular senator off the ballot to keep voter turnout low in the November election.

"Where do you think [Boston] got the money to do this? He's that wealthy? Guess again," Blount said at a get-out-the-vote rally Thursday. "The issue is where does my opponent get his money to do the things he does?"

Boston says he is using money he saved from years of working

two full-time jobs -- one as a police officer at the University of Maryland and another as a teacher in the Baltimore schools. The case is expected to cost him more than $30,000. The private investigators alone will cost him about $4,000.

He says he is not using campaign funds to pay for the case and is considering taking out a loan to cover his costs. But, he said Tuesday after Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Michael E. Loney delivered his ruling, it's worth it.

Boston's attorney, Steven A. Allen, said: "From the very beginning, he was always very upfront with the fact that he thought it was wrong that Blount lived outside the district. It may sound old-fashioned, but it really bothered him on a basic moral level."

Boston, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, testified in court this week that his query into whether Blount lived in the 41st District began with the old-fashioned rumor mill. He said that he had heard for years that Blount lived on waterfront property in Anne Arundel County.

Boston, 59, decided to run for the Senate this year, thinking that Blount, 77, was going to retire. When Blount made his surprise -- and last-minute -- decision to seek an eighth term, Boston got phone calls from angry constituents complaining about the revered senator's residency, Boston testified.

So he decided to investigate.

In early July, Boston said, he pulled Blount's financial disclosure forms and ethics reports for the past 13 years. He also looked at property records and voting records.

He saw that Blount had sold his two homes in the 41st District -- on Copley Road and Hillsdale Road -- in 1987. However, Blount was still registered to vote in the district. The documents showed that Blount owned property in Pikesville in Baltimore County and had sold land in Anne Arundel County. Boston testified that he became suspicious.

After two weeks of searching records he was worried he did not have enough evidence to challenge Blount's residency. So he decided to hire a private investigator.

He met Widenhouse on July 14 and told him he wanted the investigation to be strong enough to stand up in court, but that he did not want to invade the senator's privacy, Boston testified. Widenhouse, whose company is in Harford County, said Boston also wanted an out-of-town investigator.

During the next six days, Widenhouse checked Blount's motor-vehicle records. He also shot a roll of film at the Copley Road home, where Blount said he lived in a second-floor apartment, and the condominium in Pikesville.

He interviewed neighbors. One told him that the second-floor home at Copley Road was vacant. The mailman told him: " 'That's the Blounts' [house]. But you're not going to find them there,' " Widenhouse said.

When Widenhouse told Boston of his findings, Boston said he needed to find a lawyer.

On July 23, Boston called Allen, a former federal prosecutor. They met two days later, on a Saturday morning. Allen sat down and thought about how to prove where someone lives. He started drafting subpoenas that day. He filed suit on behalf of Boston July 29.

By the time he was finished, he had filed 50 subpoenas -- seeking everything from electricity bills to bank records.

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