Campaign donations questioned

Employees, relatives of contractor gave money to Cummings

Records subpoenaed

P&J Contracting received millions for demolition in city

April 22, 1999|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

Federal prosecutors are investigating campaign contributions relatives and employees of a prominent Baltimore demolition contractor made to campaigns of Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, according to interviews and documents.

Prosecutors have subpoenaed the records of campaign contributions made by a son and daughter of Pless B. Jones, owner of P&J Contracting Co. and a hefty political donor, and are seeking to question some of the company's workers, according to those familiar with the investigation.

Prosecutors are apparently trying to determine whether Jones and his company -- which have received millions of dollars in city demolition contracts over the past several years -- provided money for his children and some of the company's employees to make contributions to Cummings' 1996 and 1998 campaigns, they say.

It is a violation of federal election laws for one person to make political contributions in the name of another.

A source close to the investigation said the contributions, not Cummings' campaign, are the focus of the inquiry.

Robert F. Dashiell, the lawyer for Jones and P&J Contracting, which has been under investigation by federal prosecutors for more than a year for its demolition work, said he has been told of "four or five subpoenas" that have been issued in connection with campaign contributions.

"The subpoenas I've been made aware of were for documents. They haven't asked people to come down and appear before a grand jury," said Dashiell.

Sham Vij, P&J Contracting's chief estimator, has been asked to meet with federal prosecutors but has not been issued a subpoena, according to the employee's lawyer.

"We may or may not comply" with the request, said the lawyer, Margaret Mead.

First Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen M. Schenning declined to comment, noting office policy to neither confirm nor deny continuing investigations.

A spokesman for the Cummings for Congress Campaign Committee said neither the committee nor the congressman was aware of the investigation.

"The campaign has no reason to believe that anything was done wrong on our side," said the spokesman, Michael Christianson.

A subpoena issued last month to Rodney B. Jones, Pless B. Jones' son, asks for "any and all records of payments or contribution made to, or on behalf of, a political campaign or a candidate for political office" from Jan. 1, 1996 until now.

The Sun obtained a copy of the subpoena.

The subpoena does not specifically name a candidate, but both Dashiell and Mead said prosecutors were focusing on contributions to the campaigns of Cummings, a Democrat who represents much of Baltimore and parts of western Baltimore County.

Rodney Jones contributed $2,000 to the Cummings campaign in the 1998 election cycle, but $1,000 of that had to be refunded for exceeding the federal limit for a single election, federal election records show.

Under federal law, individuals are allowed to give up to $1,000 to a candidate for each election in which the candidate is running -- primary, general or special.

Treva Jones Brown, Pless Jones' daughter, also gave $2,000 to the Cummings campaign, records show. She gave $1,000 on Aug. 11, 1997, the same date as a $1,000 contribution by Rodney Jones, and another $1,000 on Nov. 3, 1998, the same date as a $1,000 contribution by her father.

Treva Jones Brown also made three $1,000 contributions to the Cummings campaign in the 1996 election, federal records show. The contributions were made on Jan. 24, April 12 and Oct. 14 of 1996 -- the same dates as three $1,000 contributions made by Pless B. Jones.

Treva Jones Brown, who works for P&J Contracting, has also received a federal subpoena, according to Dashiell.

Efforts to reach Rodney Jones and Treva Jones Brown were unsuccessful.

Another of Pless Jones' relatives, Tresa Tuttle, also contributed $1,000 to the Cummings campaign Aug. 11, 1997, records show.

In a brief telephone interview, Tuttle declined to say whether she had received a subpoena.

Vij and his wife, Asha Vy, contributed $2,000 to the Cummings campaign in the 1998 election cycle, records show.

Dashiell and Mead said they saw nothing improper in the contributions.

"I have reviewed campaign reports filed since 1996. I don't see anything there," Dashiell said.

Mead said Cummings is the only candidate to which her client has ever contributed.

"He really likes Mr. Cummings," she said.

Besides Pless Jones' contributions to Cummings, P&J Contracting has made $35,950 in so-called "soft money" contributions to the Democratic National Committee for the 1996 and 1998 elections that are not designated for a particular candidate.

Jones and his then-wife Jacqueline Jones also contributed $7,000 to the 1995 re-election campaign of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, while P&J Contracting gave $3,950.

P&J Contracting has won contracts to tear down scores of vacant homes throughout the city in recent years and shared with another firm, Phipps Construction Contractors Inc., millions of dollars to demolish the Lexington Terrace and Fairfield Homes public housing projects.

Dashiell said Jones' campaign records have not been subpoenaed. But he said federal investigators had previously subpoenaed P&J Contracting's records as part of an inquiry into the company's contracting business that began about a year ago -- after a three-part series in The Sun in April 1997 on the demolition of vacant city properties highlighted Jones' recovery from the brink of financial disaster through millions of dollars in city contracts.

"My client has been involved in some sort of investigation for a year or so," said Dashiell. "Whatever [prosecutors are] going to do, I'd hope they would bring it to a conclusion."

Pub Date: 4/22/99

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