Judge calls Mitchell `uncharged alleged co-conspirator' in court

Racketeering witness accuses ex-senator of being a go-between

January 23, 2003|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

A federal judge described former state Sen. Michael B. Mitchell Sr. yesterday as an "uncharged alleged co-conspirator" in a high-profile racketeering trial, and a key witness said Mitchell served as a go-between in an effort to get a 12-year-old rape victim to change her story.

Testifying against his one-time friend and business partner, Louis W. Colvin said that lead defendant James E. Gross Sr. had turned to Mitchell after being arrested in the rape case in early 2001 and asked the former Baltimore city councilman if anything could be done to persuade the girl to drop the charges.

According to Colvin's testimony, Mitchell in turn approached a convicted tax evader and briber, Milton N. Tillman Jr., about talking to the girl. Colvin said he learned about the exchanges from Tillman, who told Colvin that he turned down the request.

"He said that Michael Mitchell told him what James wanted, and he wasn't going to have anything to do with it," Colvin testified in a hearing outside the presence of the jury hearing the racketeering case against Gross and four other area men in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

Mitchell is not charged with any crime. In an interview, his attorney blasted the allegations.

"It's an outrageous accusation; unequivocally untrue," attorney Arthur M. Frank said. He dismissed Colvin's testimony as "uncorroborated fairytales" and called the suggestion that Mitchell was a co-conspirator "ridiculous in and of itself."

"If the government had any evidence that Mr. Mitchell was even remotely involved, he would have been the first one charged," Frank said.

U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz, who is presiding over the trial, made a brief reference to Mitchell as an "uncharged alleged co-conspirator" during courtroom discussions with attorneys about how much hearsay evidence the government could elicit from Colvin regarding his interactions with the defendants and other individuals, including Mitchell.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Robert Harding and Christine Manuelian declined to comment outside of court.

Mitchell has been mentioned repeatedly during trial testimony over the past two weeks as someone the alleged ringleaders of the crime organization turned to for advice on keeping their legitimate business fronts -- Baltimore area nightclubs and other businesses -- running smoothly while they operated what federal authorities have described as a violent, well-organized drug ring.

Colvin, who initially was charged as a leader of the crime ring but pleaded guilty in an agreement that required him to testify for the government, said in court this week that on two occasions he and Gross met with Mitchell at their former base of operation, Strawberry's 5000, when questions arose about the ownership of the Rosedale nightclub.

Colvin said the men met to work out an "alibi" that would disguise the fact that Gross and Colvin, both convicted felons, were operating the bar.

An events promoter who worked closely with the men testified last week that Gross and Colvin received a more favorable hearing date before the Baltimore liquor board for a club they planned to open in late 2000 after Mitchell met privately with city liquor board officials.

Frank said Mitchell's only interaction with Gross and Colvin was to refer them to an attorney when they approached him for advice in the late 1990s. Frank said Mitchell had done some legal work for the men or their relatives in the 1980s, before he lost his law license and resigned from the state Senate after a federal conviction on obstruction of justice charges.

Frank said Mitchell's role in the racketeering case had been inflated by The Sun's coverage of the case to give an unfair perception of the prominent Baltimore family.

"Michael Mitchell is not on trial, yet his name appears in the headlines," Frank said. "Michael actually did what he was supposed to do. They came to him and he referred them to another attorney."

Tillman could not be reached yesterday to comment on Colvin's testimony. He is a well-known figure in Baltimore for his 1993 federal bribery conviction for offering to pay a city zoning officer $30,000 to keep his nightclub, Odell's, open.

Gross and Colvin ran a series of troubled clubs during more than two decades of friendships and business dealings. After Gross was jailed on the rape charge in Baltimore County, however, Colvin testified that he gradually took over operations of their last joint venture, the club Intellects, and began feuding over profits with Gross' wife and adult son.

By late 2001, Colvin testified that he severed all dealings with the Gross family and launched a new partnership with former heavyweight boxing champion Hasim S. Rahman. Together, the two men planned a new chapter for the club at 10 S. Calvert St., Colvin testified.

"We had decided to shut it down and rename it," Colvin said. The club reopened in early 2002 as the Emineo -- a name picked by Rahman's brother Yah Yah Cason, Colvin said.

According to Colvin's testimony, Rahman became a part owner in an agreement that called for the boxer to invest $50,000 up front and an additional $100,000 over a six-month period. Colvin also said he, Rahman and Cason incorporated a new business to operate the club -- identified in state records as RYL Investment Group LLC.

Rahman in interviews has denied having any ownership interest in the club, which was shuttered in June by city liquor board officials for violations.

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