`Black book' return forced in Frederick

Alleged madam gets lists on mayor's order

March 02, 2001|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,SUN STAFF

The political tangle in Frederick over an alleged madam's "black book" has taken another bizarre twist, as the city's mayor ordered the return of possible client lists seized in a police investigation of an alleged prostitution ring.

The return was ordered by Mayor James S. Grimes as a local newspaper pressed its efforts in court to obtain the lists, which have been the focus of speculation that they identify prominent public officials.

Grimes acted a week after the Frederick News-Post filed papers in Frederick County Circuit Court seeking to intervene in a legal proceeding brought by the city to determine ownership of the records.

"I personally have never seen, nor do I want to see, nor have any interest in knowing of it, but I have been informed that there is no elected city, county or state officials in that book," Grimes said Wednesday.

The move, which occurred late Monday, stunned the newspaper and its lawyer, who had been arguing that the client lists are public records under city and state public-information laws.

"I don't see how this can end so fast," said Managing Editor Michael Powell.

The newspaper countered by obtaining a court order barring the former owner of Corporate Affair Referral Service from destroying or tampering with any of her property returned by police.

Before that order could be issued late Wednesday, her lawyer had shredded most of the documents in dispute, said Henry Abrams, the newspaper's Baltimore lawyer.

"We are exploring all possible remedies," Abrams said when asked about a legal recourse.

"What happened was wrong," he said later. "I'm so furious I can't see straight."

The return of the documents is the latest development in an issue that has dogged Frederick City Hall for months, prompting rumors and suspicion. It has played out for several weeks in court, as city officials, the newspaper and the alleged madam sparred over whether her documents should be made public.

The "black book" was a printout of files contained in a personal computer seized by police during their investigation of Corporate Affair.

Angelika E. Potter of Walkersville, owner of the escort service and of a pornographic Web site, paid a $100 fine for running a place of "assignation" as part of a plea bargain Nov. 15 in Frederick District Court.

The prosecutor who handled the case agreed to give back all property seized during a July 1999 raid on her home and a city apartment used by the service. Police returned the computer and the originals of confiscated paper documents but kept the computer printouts.

Meanwhile, Charlene Edmonds, president of the Frederick County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, charged publicly that an anonymous tipster had told her that the escort service's "black book" contained the names of elected officials.

Edmonds accused police of using the information to influence city officials, a charge police vehemently denied.

In the ensuing furor, the News-Post and the Associated Press pressed to see whatever records the police had in their possession from the closed investigation. Potter demanded the return of any copies or printouts made from her computer. Her lawyer, Richard P. Bricken, argued that they were her "intellectual property."

City officials and Potter's lawyers went to court seeking a judicial ruling on the ownership of the documents, and the dispute bounced from Circuit Court to District Court and back.

Two weeks ago, the newspaper filed a motion to intervene, arguing that the city and Potter were trying through the courts to "make a complete end run around the [state] Public Information Act."

Grimes issued a statement after ordering the return, saying that he decided to do it without waiting for a court hearing because it did not appear that the city would get clear guidance on what to do.

"This ends it as far as I'm concerned," said Bricken.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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