U.S. attorney subpoenas City Council

Members must turn over five years of records to DiBiagio's office

Curran calls inquiry `witch hunt'

Scope of investigation seems broad, expert says

October 17, 2003|By Doug Donovan and Laura Vozzella | Doug Donovan and Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

Federal prosecutors have subpoenaed Baltimore City Council members in a wide-ranging investigation into their hiring practices, acceptance of gifts and loans, and relations with two local businessmen.

Council members have until tomorrow to turn over five years of records to U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio's office, which issued apparently identical subpoenas dated Sept. 11, two days after the city's primary election.

Some legal experts say the subpoenas - a copy of which was obtained yesterday by The Sun - indicate that a grand jury investigation is in an early stage.

Representatives of DiBiagio's office said they do not comment on investigations or subpoenas.

At least eight council members have received subpoenas, according to interviews and sources in city government. Some others say they haven't been served one, and the remainder could not be reached for comment.

Some members of the all-Democratic council said that DiBiagio, a Republican appointed by President Bush, is engaging in a political "witch hunt" fueled by articles in The Sun.

The newspaper reported in July that 10 of the council's 19 members have hired relatives, and all have accepted free passes to Arrow Parking garages. Nearly all said they also received passes to events at the Baltimore Zoo, 1st Mariner Arena and the Senator Theatre.

"It's all racially motivated," Councilman Bernard C. "Jack" Young said, contending that nepotism and council perks didn't raise eyebrows until the council became majority black.

"We haven't done anything wrong," he said. "They're not going to find anything."

The city's Board of Ethics issued opinions this week that three council members violated ethics law by hiring siblings as assistants and that all 19 members erred ethically by accepting free passes from Arrow Parking, which is seeking a tax break from the city.

The council members who said they have received subpoenas are: Kwame Osayaba Abayomi, Pamela V. Carter, Robert W. Curran, Kenneth N. Harris Sr., Melvin L. Stukes and Young. A source said Agnes Welch, who is in Rome on a city-sponsored trip, also received a subpoena. Lois A. Garey said she did not receive one, but The Sun obtained a copy with her name. (Some subpoenas were sent to the wrong council members, apparently because of clerical errors in the U.S. Attorney's office, several council members said.) All of those council members employ relatives, or, in Stukes' case, a goddaughter.

Council Members Stephanie C. Rawlings Blake, Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr., Helen L. Holton, Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., Catherine E. Pugh, Edward L. Reisinger and Rochelle "Rikki" Spector said they had not received subpoenas. They do not employ relatives.

Four council members could not be reached for comment: Paula Johnson Branch, John L. Cain and Council President Sheila Dixon, who all employ relatives; and Lisa Joi Stancil, who does not. All council members received parking passes and other perks.

The subpoenas ask council members for "all documents" concerning financial, political and professional dealings dating back five years. These include:

Gifts worth more than $100 from anyone other than immediate family

Loans from individuals or financial institutions

Income or consulting fees beyond their council salaries and all disclosure reports

All resumes or job applications for current and past employees

Any official actions taken related to two businessmen and their primary interests: Ben Greenwald, vice president of Arrow Parking, and Edwin F. Hale Sr., owner of the Baltimore Blast soccer team and chairman of 1st Mariner Bank.

Andrew C. White, a former federal prosecutor who has no connection to the investigation, said the subpoena suggests the inquiry's scope is broad.

"It appears that they are looking for any and all potential conflicts with respect to the City Council," White said. "It's very broad but those are precisely the things you want to look at when you're investigating corruption - who is lending you money?"

Another former federal prosecutor, who has investigated organized crime and public corruption in New York and Pennsylvania, said the information requested by DiBiagio could indicate a bribery or extortion investigation.

"If a benefit is being provided by a company to a public official, one of the scenarios that has to be considered by an investigator is whether or not that public official is in effect extorting those benefits," said George Parry of Davis, Parry, Tyler & Wright in Philadelphia.

`The beginning'

Another former federal prosecutor, Gregg L. Bernstein, now a defense lawyer, said the investigation appears to be in an early stage.

"It should be emphasized that the fact that the U.S. Attorney's office would issue subpoenas does not mean they have any evidence," Bernstein said. "[Subpoenas] are an investigatory tool that the U.S. Attorney's office uses to ascertain if a criminal action has taken place - it is not the end, it is the beginning."

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