Nephew in charge, Parren Mitchell suffers money woes

Frail ex-congressman being sued by creditors, owes $100,000 to Keswick

May 31, 2002|By Walter F. Roche Jr. and Ivan Penn | Walter F. Roche Jr. and Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Frail and slowed by strokes, former Rep. Parren J. Mitchell has spent the past three years at the Keswick Multi-Care Center in Roland Park, leaving his financial affairs in the hands of his nephew, Michael B. Mitchell Sr.

Parren Mitchell's assets include a $60,000-a-year congressional pension and a trust that holds title to his West Baltimore home.

But Parren Mitchell's bills - including more than $100,000 owed to Keswick - have gone unpaid by Michael Mitchell, a former city councilman and former state senator who was disbarred for stealing from a client. Michael Mitchell, who has power of attorney for his uncle, has instead used his uncle's assets to help pay expenses related to a Pigtown bar he helps run and to buy a car that his uncle said he knew nothing about.

Interviewed in his room at Keswick, with a health care worker at his side, Parren Mitchell, 80, said that he had entrusted all of his finances to his nephew Michael and said he was certain his bills were being paid.

"He [Michael] takes care of everything for me," the former congressman said, adding that he trusts his nephew to look out for his interests.

But evidence indicates otherwise.

Despite his assets, Parren Mitchell has been hit with state and federal tax liens of $25,532.

Though Parren Mitchell said in an interview that he did not know that a car was bought in his name by his nephew Michael, the retired congressman is being sued by the General Motors Acceptance Corp for the $16,004.97 still owed on the car, including interest and attorney fees.

A board member at the nursing home where Parren Mitchell is a patient says nothing has been paid for the former congressman's care since he was admitted more than three years ago.

"We're very concerned about it because he was a very good congressman," said Keswick board member Lionel Fulz.

"He's very sick. We're doing everything we can to keep him comfortable," Fulz said. "There's no way we would put him out."

But as Mitchell's bill continues to grow, Keswick is feeling the pinch.

"We're a nonprofit institution," Fulz said. "Any unpaid bill takes away from our ability to help others."

Edmond B. Nolley Jr., chairman of Keswick's board, declined to comment about Mitchell's case because of patient confidentiality. But Nolley said no one is in danger of being evicted for overdue bills.

"Keswick would never discharge a resident for lack of payment," Nolley said.

Michael Mitchell declined repeated requests yesterday for an interview.

Differing lives

Though apparently close, Parren and Michael Mitchell have led sharply contrasting lives.

Parren Mitchell is a man of many firsts. He was the University of Maryland's first black graduate student, an honor he earned after suing the school to gain admission.

Parren Mitchell became the first African-American from Maryland elected to Congress, serving from 1971 to 1986. His victory made him the first African-American since 1898 elected to Congress from a state south of the Mason-Dixon line.

By the time he had retired from Congress in 1986, Parren Mitchell was looked to as an elder statesman, and he had amassed more than 3,000 awards and 14 honorary degrees.

Michael B. Mitchell Sr., 56, once considered a rising star in city and state politics, was elected to the Baltimore City Council in 1975, when he was 29. By 1980 he was being touted as a possible mayoral candidate. But his political rise stopped short later that decade.

Michael Mitchell served less than a year in the Maryland Senate before he was sentenced in 1987 to federal prison. He was convicted on charges that he attempted to obstruct a federal investigation of the Wedtech Corp., a Bronx, N.Y.-based defense contractor.

Wedtech won $100 million in defense contracts under a minority set-aside program that Parren Mitchell had helped create. Though Michael Mitchell and his older brother, Clarence M. Mitchell III, collected $50,000 to halt the congressional probe, Parren Mitchell pressed ahead with the investigation, unaware of his nephews' involvement.

Michael Mitchell also was convicted in state court in 1988 of stealing $77,417 in insurance money from a 3-year-old son of a murder victim - money he has yet to repay. As part of his sentence in that case, Michael Mitchell was disbarred.

Parren Mitchell, whose personal finances have never been previously questioned, has long been viewed as a man of honor and integrity.

"I just don't see great leaders like I saw in him anymore," said state Del. Talmadge Branch, a special assistant to Parren Mitchell when he was in Congress.

Raymond V. Haysbert, former head of the Parks Sausage company, described the ex-congressman as "a hero and an icon to the total community."

Haysbert said he was surprised to hear that Parren Mitchell was having financial trouble.

"I'm just bewildered how this thing could happen," Haysbert said. "If there was no income, the whole community, including me, would chip in."

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