Mitchell debts under scrutiny

Situation `troubling,' Miller says

senator defends his conduct

Bail vote, loan studied

January 31, 2002|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

A half-dozen creditors have sued state Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV for tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid bills over the past five years, including the state of Maryland, which was forced to file a lien against the lawmaker to collect unpaid taxes.

Mitchell's debts include a $10,000 personal loan in 1997 that was co-signed by a friend who runs a bail bond business. The senator did not disclose the loan even though he later voted on several bail bills - including casting a key vote that helped defeat a measure that could have cost bail bondsmen considerable profits.

Among other judgments, the courts are garnisheeing part of Mitchell's $31,509 salary as a state senator - his only employment - to help repay a $434,000 debt for which he and three other family members co-signed in a failed business venture run by his father.

Mitchell, a 39-year-old Baltimore Democrat, faces a tough election battle this fall against a fellow city senator, George W. Della Jr., whose 47th District was merged with Mitchell's 44th District in the governor's redistricting plan.

Mitchell has been an outspoken critic of the plan, contending it does not do enough to foster the election of black legislators.

He stood on the Senate floor yesterday and called The Sun's reporting on his finances an attempt to silence him as he speaks out about the redistricting plan.

"There will be no shock value gained by the Baltimore Sunpapers in this whole matter," Mitchell said. He went on to invoke the names of members of his prominent civil rights family.

"If The [Baltimore] Sun or any other type of medium thinks that they will be effective in silencing my voice by launching a personal attack, they don't know Lillie Jackson's great-grandson, they don't know Juanita and Clarence's grandson and they definitely don't know Clarence III's son."

But in Annapolis, Mitchell's financial problems are raising eyebrows. "It's troubling," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.

According to court records and Mitchell's lawyer, the senator's debts include:

A court-ordered payment of $4,795 to Barry Finglass, a Baltimore landlord who leased 876-878 Park Ave. to Mitchell for his 1998 campaign office. The debt has yet to be satisfied.

A court-ordered payment of $3,312 to Enterprise Leasing Co. of Baltimore Inc. for a 67-day car rental in 1996. The debt has yet to be satisfied.

$18,610 that Mitchell's attorney said is owed to Cedardale Investment Associates for principal and interest on a $10,000 loan Mitchell took in June 1997. The note was co-signed by Robert M. Campbell, an owner of Campbell Brothers Bail Bonds in Baltimore. No payments have been made on the loan, and the lender has filed suit.

An unspecified portion of a $434,874 court-ordered payment to Druid Hill Associates Limited Partnership. The senator is required to help pay the debt because he co-signed a loan for a business run by his father, former state Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell III. As of November, $16,979 had been garnisheed from the younger Mitchell's legislative salary to help pay the judgment, issued in January 1998.

A court ordered payment of $4,733 to Classic Travel Unlimited for trips by Mitchell or his father to places including New York, Detroit, Sarasota, Fla., and Hilton Head, N.C., in 1993 and 1994.

A $1,137 state tax lien filed by the Maryland Comptroller's office in October 1997 for unpaid withholding taxes from the senator's former business, Druid Hill Bail Bonds. The debt was satisfied in December 1999 with a lump sum payment, the comptroller's office said.

None of the debts are reported on Mitchell's financial disclosure forms to the General Assembly's ethics committee, which reviews possible conflicts of interest involving legislators, or to the State Ethics Commission.

Maryland law requires disclosure of some debts - including mortgages or debts to entities that do business with the state - but is unclear about others, according to Suzanne S. Fox, executive director of the Ethics Commission.

Mitchell said he believes the law did not require him to disclose the various debts. "Nobody puts all their debt in an ethics report," he said. He sent a letter to the Ethics Commission regarding the Cedardale loan after his relationship with the bail bondsman was revealed in a recent TV news report. "He requested that the Ethics Commission look at it because he knew he did nothing wrong," said Arthur Frank, Mitchell's lawyer.

Frank said the senator's debts have mounted largely because of the loan he co-signed with family members. "That wasn't debt he created. It's an insurmountable amount," Frank said.

He began his political career by winning election to the House of Delegates in 1994. He won his Senate seat in 1998.

In 1999, Mitchell drew criticism from the criminal justice community when he cast a key vote in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee in the 6-5 defeat of a bill that would have required public defenders to represent indigent clients at bail-review hearings.

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