Legislative ethics panel decries Fulton conduct, takes no action

September 01, 2000|By Greg Garland and Michael Dresser | Greg Garland and Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Several members of the legislature's ethics committee said yesterday that Del. Tony E. Fulton's conduct, as he described it during his federal court trial, tarnished the reputation of the General Assembly.

But the committee took no formal action, and the panel's co-chairmen would not say whether they are investigating the West Baltimore Democrat.

A U.S. District Court jury acquitted Fulton in July of six counts of mail fraud but deadlocked on five others in a case that involved an alleged scheme to help Annapolis lobbyist Gerard E. Evans defraud some of Evans' clients.

During the trial, Fulton told the jury he made empty threats twice to introduce legislation feared by lobbying clients of Evans. He said he did it not to help Evans make money, but to try to force the companies to contribute to community projects in his district.

Fulton also testified that such tactics were common practice in Annapolis - a statement that drew sharp criticism at a meeting yesterday of the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics.

"I just took offense to the fact that I'm being painted with the same brush, that Delegate Fulton implied that all legislators play these games," said Del. Nancy R. Stocksdale, a Carroll County Republican. "I, for one, would not think of doing these things."

Other members joined Stocksdale in deploring Fulton's actions, but did not discuss opening an investigation or reprimanding him. Prosecutors said they have not decided whether to retry Fulton on the counts on which the jury deadlocked. Evans was convicted on nine of 11 counts and is to be sentenced Sept. 14.

Regardless of what federal prosecutors do, Fulton could face sanctions from the ethics committee. House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. said it is up to the panel to decide what action, if any, is warranted, given the information that surfaced during the trial.

Prosecutors presented evidence that Fulton filed a misleading statement with the committee about his role in a real estate transaction with Evans. The committee cleared Fulton last year of any wrongdoing after what prosecutors described as a cursory investigation.

"I said at the end of the trial, and I repeat it again, that I would ask our ethics committee to review the transcript and come back with any appropriate recommendations," Taylor said.

He said he doesn't know the status. He referred questions to the committee's co-chairmen, Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr. and Sen. Michael J. Collins.

The two refused to say if the committee is reviewing the trial transcripts, as Taylor requested.

"I'm not at liberty to say what, if anything, the joint committee ... is investigating or not investigating because under the law, that is to be kept confidential," said Collins, a Baltimore County Democrat.

He and Montague, a Baltimore Democrat, said that the committee usually takes no action while a criminal case is pending.

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