State ethics panel, prosecutor review '97 loan to Mitchell

Men who arranged for senator to borrow $10,000 are questioned

March 30, 2002|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

State investigators and ethics officials are continuing inquiries into a $10,000 loan that state Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV received five years ago in an agreement with three Baltimore businessmen who have issues before the General Assembly.

The state prosecutor's office has questioned at least two of the three businessmen who arranged the loan for Mitchell, sources close to the investigation said yesterday. And the state Ethics Commission, which met last week, is reviewing the loan agreement.

State prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli, who declined to comment on the matter, can pursue criminal cases against public officials that could lead to fines and imprisonment.

The Ethics Commission, which appears to be focusing on Mitchell's failure to disclose the loan, has the authority to fine individuals for violations of state ethics laws. Officials with the commission have refused to comment about their in- quiry because of confidentiality provisions in the law.

The inquiries follow a 1 1/2 -month probe by the General Assembly's Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics, which last month took the unusual step of issuing a public reprimand because Mitchell failed to disclose the loan while sponsoring and acting on legislation affecting the businessmen.

Arthur M. Frank, Mitchell's lawyer, said he has not been contacted by Montanarelli or the ethics commission. Frank said the Baltimore Democrat did nothing wrong and in January sent a letter to the commission, urging the panel to investigate the loan.

"We welcome them to look at it because the loan was legal," Frank said. He said the only issue was that Mitchell should have disclosed the loan.

Mitchell has not repaid any of the money, his attorney acknowledges. With interest, the debt exceeds $18,000, and the senator has been sued to collect the money.

Mitchell, 39, accepted a $10,000 loan from bus company owner Joe Louis Gladney in 1997, when Mitchell was a state delegate. City bail bondsman John Griffin helped arrange the loan, and another bail bondsman, Robert M. Campbell, co-signed.

Although Mitchell sponsored and voted on legislation affecting the bail bond and bus service industries, he did not disclose the loan agreement until February - a violation of state ethics law. He reported the loan to the Ethics Committee on the eve of an article in The Sun describing the deal and after he was urged to do so by the committee.

Because Mitchell is tens of thousands of dollars in debt, Campbell said he fears that as the co-signer on the agreement, he will have to repay the $18,000. A hearing on the suit to collect the debt is scheduled for next month in Baltimore District Court.

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