Mitchell sought loan of $10,000

Two bail bondsmen, bus company owner aided state senator

Not reported or repaid

Law bars soliciting from person with stake in legislation

February 12, 2002|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

At a time of mounting personal debt five years ago, state Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV sought a $10,000 loan from two Baltimore bail bondsmen and a bus company owner whose businesses are routinely the subject of legislation before the General Assembly.

According to all three businessmen, Mitchell's request led to an arrangement in which one put up the money for the loan but it was made in the name of an unincorporated investment firm.

Mitchell's request and the resulting loan - an apparent violation of Maryland ethics law - came during the 1997 General Assembly session, when he was a state delegate. He has not made any payments on the loan, court records show, and did not report it to state ethics officials.

Court documents filed recently to collect on the loan say it was made to Mitchell by "Cedardale Investment Associates," at an address that is a home in Baltimore's Ashburton neighborhood.

But the money actually came from Baltimore bus service owner Joe Louis Gladney Sr., according to Gladney and to Robert M. Campbell and John Griffin, who own bail bond businesses.

The bail bondsmen say they arranged for the meeting that led to the loan, and Campbell co-signed for it.

The General Assembly considers bills on bus safety nearly every year. And the promise of the loan came as Mitchell was proposing legislation that would have charged a 1 percent license fee to bail bondsmen on the gross value of bonds written in Baltimore Circuit Court. The fee could have cost the bonding industry tens of thousands of dollars.

Mitchell withdrew the legislation late in the 1997 session.

The senator cast a key vote that killed a 1999 bill that would have provided lawyers for low-income defendants at bail reviews. Supporters said the legislation would have led to the release of many defendants without bail, costing the industry substantial profits.

Maryland law prohibits legislators from "soliciting, accepting, or agreeing to accept a loan ... from a person who would be affected by or has an interest in an enterprise which would be affected by the legislator's participation in legislative action."

Mitchell's reply

Asked about the loan and the role of Gladney, Campbell and Griffin in providing it, Mitchell said: "All of this is before the Ethics Commission and the [General Assembly's] ethics committee. I really won't comment on anything until the appropriate committees finish their work."

Mitchell, who is the subject of a half-dozen lawsuits seeking payment on overdue debts, said recently that he had invited the State Ethics Commission and the Assembly's ethics panel to review his finances if they see fit.

Sen. Michael J. Collins, co-chairman of the ethics committee, said state law prohibits him from disclosing whether it is conducting an investigation. The panel is scheduled to meet today.

Ethics Commission officials also have declined to say whether they are investigating the senator.

Mitchell's lawyer, Arthur M. Frank, said he believes that a review by ethics officials will show that his client did nothing wrong. He noted that Mitchell was running a family bail bond business at the time he asked for the money.

"He sought help from someone who was in his profession," Frank said. "I just don't see [a conflict], and I'm quite sensitive to conflicts of interest, being a lawyer."

A call from Mitchell

Talks leading to the 1997 loan began with a phone call from the then-state delegate, said Griffin, who owns John's Bail Bonding Service Inc., in West Baltimore.

Mitchell "called me on the telephone one day when he was in session," Griffin said. "He claimed he needed $10,000. We thought he was in trouble."

Griffin said he told Mitchell he did not have the money but would get in touch with Gladney and Campbell. Griffin said he thought of Gladney because "he loans out money."

Griffin said he and Campbell wanted to help Mitchell because the lawmaker was a fellow member of the Black Bail Bondsman Association. Campbell, co-owner of Campbell Brothers Bail Bonds, was president and Griffin vice president.

About a week after Mitchell's call, Griffin said, the three businessmen agreed to meet him at Jack's Corned Beef restaurant, now Lenny's of Lombard Street on Baltimore's east side.

There they reached an agreement on the loan, the three said in separate interviews.

Gladney, owner of Gladney Transportation Inc., said he agreed to put up the money because Mitchell was in "a dire situation at that time."

"I've been in the business of helping people. I'm a Christian man. I try to do good deeds," Gladney said.

With more than 20 buses, Gladney Transportation is one of 22 private companies that hold contracts to transport students to city schools. In August, the city school board awarded the company a $1 million contract for the current school year.

Gladney declined to say why the loan to Mitchell was made in Cedardale's name. Campbell and Griffin said they did not know why that arrangement was made.

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