Demolition firms face campaign charges

Loizeaux brothers, Pless Jones indicted over 3rd-party checks

February 03, 2000|By MICHAEL JAMES | MICHAEL JAMES,SUN STAFF

A federal grand jury has indicted two of Maryland's biggest demolition contracting companies -- along with their owners -- for allegedly disguising campaign contributions to Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, federal prosecutors said yesterday.

Charged in one of the indictments were the internationally renowned Loizeaux brothers, Mark and Douglas, whose Baltimore County company accounts for more than half of the world's explosive demolitions. A separate indictment charges Baltimore demolition expert and noted political contributor Pless B. Jones.

Lawyers for Jones and the Loizeaux brothers said their clients are innocent and the charges should never have been filed.

The indictments, unsealed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, allege that Jones and the Loizeaux brothers contributed to Cummings' congressional campaigns through third parties. Federal law prohibits someone from making a political contribution in the name of another.

In the 1996 and 1998 election campaigns, Jones is alleged to have enlisted 11 people to make a total of $16,000 in contributions to Cummings, while the Loizeauxes used four people to contribute a total of $4,000, according to the indictments. Cummings' campaign raised about $500,000 in contributions in 1996 and somewhat less in 1998.

Federal prosecutors refused to say yesterday whether they are looking at how city demolition contracts have been awarded to the Loizeaux brothers or Jones. The Jones and Loizeaux companies have received millions of dollars in city-approved contracts.

Cummings is not charged with wrongdoing. His spokesman, Michael Christianson, said yesterday that Cummings was unaware of any questionable contributions.

"There's no indication that anybody from the campaign knew anything, if in fact anything happened," Christianson said.

The Loizeauxes' company, Controlled Demolition Inc. (CDI), has imploded more than 7,000 buildings worldwide and in 1995 was called in to consult on demolishing what was left of the bombed-out Oklahoma City federal building. It has also taken down earthquake-damaged buildings in Japan, Mexico and Turkey.

Prosecutors say Mark and Douglas Loizeaux asked a family member and employees of their company to write checks to Cummings' 1996 campaign. For each of those personal checks, the contributor was reimbursed by CDI to cover the amount of the check, prosecutors said.

"Cummings for Congress recorded the persons whose names appeared on those personal checks as contributors, instead of CDI, whose money actually was contributed," said Lynne A. Battaglia, U.S. attorney for Maryland.

Jones made several contributions of $1,000 each through his son, daughter and employees of his company, P&J Contracting of Baltimore, the indictment alleges. He later reimbursed the family members and employees with company funds, prosecutors said.

P&J Contracting has won contracts to tear down scores of vacant city homes 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. CDI oversaw the July demolition of Murphy Homes.

Jones' lawyer, David B. Irwin, called his client "a reputable businessman. For years, he's been involved in helping people in Baltimore, and he looks forward to clearing his name in court."

William F. Marlow, an attorney for the Loizeauxes and their company, said his clients were innocent and said the amounts of money involved were inconsequential.

"They didn't do anything wrong," said Marlow. "Four thousand dollars is what these charges are about. That much in campaign contributions is of little consequence. These technical matters are usually dealt with as civil matters by the Federal Elections Commission. What the U.S. attorney's office's motivation is in pursuing this, I can't comment."

Prominent Maryland racetrack owner Joseph A. De Francis entered a no-contest plea on similar charges in 1996. De Francis, who was fined $1,000, was charged with funneling $12,000 in illegal campaign contributions to Gov. Parris N. Glendening's election fund through his grandmother, aunt and uncle. That arrangement permitted De Francis to avoid state-imposed limits on political giving.

Jones and the Loizeaux brothers are charged with numerous counts of causing false statements to be made to the Federal Election Commission, a charge that carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Their companies face $500,000 fines for each of the charges.

Sun staff writer Eric Siegel contributed to this article.

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