Schmoke refutes lobbyist on lead paint discussion

Former mayor recalls no meeting with Evans on trial

June 22, 2000|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

Annapolis lobbyist Gerard E. Evans' message to the paint companies was clear: They needed his services badly, given what the lobbyist had learned in a meeting with Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

In an August 1998 letter to several paint manufacturers, Evans said Schmoke had told him of plans to put his political influence behind legislation that would make it easier for victims of lead poisoning to sue the companies.

But yesterday, in videotaped testimony in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Schmoke said he recalled no such meeting with Evans. And, Schmoke said, he never took a position on the lead paint measure, called "market share legislation."

"I don't recall meeting with Mr. Evans ... and I don't recall indicating I would be supporting market share legislation," Schmoke testified under questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Dale Kelberman.

Schmoke is the second witness in as many days to tell jurors, in effect, that Evans misled the companies. Prosecutors allege that Evans, with the help of Del. Tony E. Fulton, schemed to give a false picture of the prospects for such legislation to generate big lobbying fees for Evans' firm.

On Tuesday, Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, a Prince George's Democrat, said he never proposed a lead paint bill in 1997 and did not circulate one among legislative colleagues in 1998, as Evans had asserted in other letters to the paint companies.

Evans, one of the top-earning lobbyists in Annapolis, and Fulton, a West Baltimore Democrat, are charged with 11 counts each of mail and wire fraud. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Fulton is accused of helping Evans by proposing market share bills in 1997 and 1998 -- which he never formally introduced -- to help Evans scare companies and generate fees. Paint manufacturers and others paid Evans' firm $400,000 over two years to fight such legislation, prosecutors say.

As part of the scheme, Evans is accused of steering a $10,000 real estate commission to Fulton. Fulton, a real estate agent, represented the Evans firm when it bought an office building in Annapolis in November 1998.

Schmoke's testimony -- taped June 9 because he is out of the country this week -- is part of the prosecution's effort to show Evans misled the companies about lead paint legislation to generate fees.

A market share bill would have made it easier for victims of lead poisoning to sue paint manufacturers by changing the rules governing civil lawsuits against them.

In his Aug. 25, 1998, letter, Evans wrote to paint company lawyers that he had met with Schmoke a few days earlier and that "the mayor indicated he again intended to ask the legislature to sponsor market share legislation" during the next year's session.

Jurors heard Schmoke dispute Evans' account yesterday.

Schmoke also was asked about an October 1998 letter to him from Fulton in which Fulton expressed concern about lead paint poisoning in Baltimore.

Fulton wrote that he intended to introduce market share legislation in the upcoming General Assembly session and asked for Schmoke's support. Prosecutors allege that Evans wrote the letter; defense lawyers say that's not true.

Schmoke said he sent a copy of the letter to Kevin O'Keeffe, the city's lobbyist in Annapolis, after writing a note on it saying, "Tell Tony we look forward to reviewing the details of his legislation."

He said he does not recall having any conversations with Fulton about the issue or hearing anything further about the matter from O'Keeffe. He also said he did not remember it coming up in his periodic meetings with the city's legislative delegation.

On cross-examination by Robert C. Bonsib, Evans' lawyer, Schmoke said lead paint in Baltimore's older houses has long been a great concern to city officials and others because of the health problems for children and families.

Schmoke noted that children who ingest paint chips or inhale lead dust can suffer mild to severe brain damage and become learning disabled. He said Fulton's district has many such older houses.

The jury also heard testimony yesterday from Ann Clark, Evans' secretary and office manager.

Clark said she was concerned about costs the firm was running up as it prepared to move to its new offices in 1998. She said she suggested that the partners reduce their salaries for a time.

Evans, who was collecting $42,083 a month in pay as of Sept. 30, 1998, took a cut to $35,691 the next month, court documents say. His partner at the time, John R. Stierhoff, saw his monthly salary drop from $23,750 to $21,042.

On cross-examination by defense lawyers, Clark said she did not detect any financial distress for the firm, despite the temporary reductions in salaries.

She said the firm continued to spend on many discretionary items, including $6,500 for Oriental rugs and putting a $3,000 deposit on new furniture during the period.

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