Fulton's aid from lobbyist not first

Co-defendant also guided realty fee to delegate in 1989

`Happens all the time'

June 15, 2000|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

The $10,000 real estate commission that a State House lobbyist steered to Del. Tony E. Fulton in 1998 - which plays a key part in the two men's mail-fraud trial - was not the first time the lobbyist helped secure a lucrative commission for the lawmaker.

In 1989, lobbyist Gerard E. Evans persuaded his employer at the time, the state medical society, to use Fulton as its agent in its purchase of a $495,000 office building in Annapolis, according to the former head of the medical society.

Fulton's real estate company was paid a commission of $17,625, records of the 1989 deal show. Under a typical industry split, Fulton would have received about half the total commission, or $8,800.

Med-Chi, the state medical society, purchased the two-story office building at 224 Main St. in February 1989, three weeks into the General Assembly's 90-day session that year.

Angelo J. Troisi, the executive director of Med-Chi in 1989, said Evans, who was the medical society's Annapolis lobbyist, found the office building and suggested that Fulton be brought into the transaction as the agent.

"When we found the place, [Evans] came and said, `You don't mind if Tony Fulton gets involved with this,'" said Troisi, who has retired. "I said, `I'm not going to mind as long as it doesn't cost us anything and it's legal.'"

At the time, Fulton served on the House Environmental Matters Committee, which considered a long list of legislative measures with significant financial implications for Maryland physicians represented by Med-Chi.

Fulton, a West Baltimore Democrat, did not disclose the transaction or his commission to the legislature's ethics committee. Legislators were required in 1989 - as they are now - to report financial conflicts of interest to the ethics panel.

Fulton and Evans, whose mail-fraud trial began Monday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, declined to be interviewed yesterday.

Richard D. Bennett, Fulton's attorney, would not discuss the Med-Chi deal in detail, but called it "not anything out of the ordinary."

"The bottom line is he's a real estate agent and it's fine to do it," Bennett said. "I'm not going to get into the whys and wherefores."

Robert C. Bonsib, Evans' attorney, declined to comment. "We will try this case in the courtroom," Bonsib said.

Fulton, 48, and Evans, 44, are each charged with 11 counts of mail and wire fraud. Prosecutors allege that the two men schemed to generate lobbying fees for Evans by persuading some of his clients that Fulton planned to introduce legislation they opposed.

Prosecutors say that as part of the scheme, Evans steered a $10,000 real estate commission to Fulton on the 1998 purchase of a $600,000 Annapolis office building for Evans' law firm.

Both men have pleaded innocent, and their attorneys have derided the charges as far-fetched and unsubstantiated.

Previous relationship

The Med-Chi real estate transaction took place seven years before the events outlined in the federal indictment of Evans and Fulton and is not mentioned in the charges against them.

The two men's roles in the sale, though, could buttress the prosecution's contention that Fulton and Evans had an uncommonly close economic relationship.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Dale P. Kelberman, who is prosecuting the case, declined to comment on the Med-Chi deal.

Med-Chi, which is based in Baltimore, purchased the 2,100- square-foot building to have a permanent lobbying office and to give its top officials a place to meet during the legislative session, according to Troisi, the former executive director.

Troisi said that Evans, as the group's Annapolis lobbyist, led the effort to find a suitable space.

In late 1988, Troisi said, Evans told him of the availability of the Main Street property, a short walk from the State House.

Med-Chi's executive committee approved the building's purchase, Troisi said. He said he gave Evans approval to use Fulton, then in his third year in the General Assembly, as the group's agent."[Evans] said, `You don't have any objection if Tony Fulton gets credit for the sale, do you?'" Troisi said. "I said, `You better check with the other Realtor.' He said, `No, it happens all the time.'"

The medical society bought the building from a partnership of three Annapolis lawyers, according to Anne Arundel County land records.

Officials at Annapolis Properties, the real estate firm that listed the Main Street property, said they could not recall details about the transaction.

Unusual commissions

A settlement sheet from the transaction shows that Century 21 - for whom Fulton was an agent - received a commission of $17,625. Annapolis Properties received a commission of $12,375.

Under a provision outlined in the settlement document, Med-Chi - the buyer - agreed to pay the real estate commissions. Such payments are typically, but not always, paid by the seller.

It was not clear why Fulton and his firm received a larger commission than the seller's agent.

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