Council president to dismiss her sister

U.S. officials investigating hiring, other practices of Baltimore lawmakers

October 18, 2003|By Doug Donovan, Laura Vozzella and Tom Pelton | Doug Donovan, Laura Vozzella and Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Baltimore City Council President Sheila Dixon said yesterday that she will fire her sister as a council assistant to comply with a local ethics law, a move that comes as federal prosecutors begin a wide-ranging probe of several of her elected colleagues.

At least eight council members had until today to provide U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio's office with five years of material related to their hiring practices, acceptance of gifts and loans, and relations with two local businessmen - banker Edwin F. Hale Sr. and Benjamin K. Greenwald of Arrow Parking.

One day after The Sun disclosed the federal investigation, many council members continued to call the probe a political "witch hunt" fueled by newspaper articles that they said had sensationalized long-standing practices of hiring relatives as assistants and of accepting certain perks.

The newspaper reported in July that 10 of the council's 19 members have hired relatives and that 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.

"When all of this is over, they're not going to find anything, but you all aren't" going to print that, said Dixon, who added that she did not receive a subpoena. "You all are really discouraging people from wanting to make sacrifices" for public service.

By firing her sister, Janice, and returning her Arrow parking pass, Dixon will have complied with Board of Ethics opinions issued this week, which said hiring siblings and accepting the parking cards violated the ethics law.

Two other council members - John L. Cain and Pamela V. Carter - have also hired siblings. Carter said she would fire her brother. Cain could not be reached for comment. The ethics board said Cain, Carter and Dixon could seek to re-hire their siblings with the Board of Estimates' approval, but Dixon and Carter said they would not do that.

"We don't need to go through any more of what the Sunpaper has put us through," Dixon said.

Carter said she hoped to give her brother two weeks' notice so he would have time to find another job.

Movie, zoo passes OK

Meanwhile, all council members have returned the parking passes that were given to them by Greenwald, Arrow Parking's vice president. The ethics board ruled that the passes were ethics violations because Arrow Parking does business with the city. It is seeking a tax break to build a new garage. The passes to the movies and the zoo were deemed acceptable.

Several council members and legal observers said the subpoenas, issued Sept. 11, left them questioning why prosecutors would launch a criminal investigation into matters that - as far as has been publicly disclosed - constitute ethical lapses, not criminal acts. Some wondered if prosecutors were looking beyond the hiring of relatives and the accepting of passes, because they demanded records of loans, consulting fees and other income.

Andrew C. White, a former federal prosecutor with no connection to the case, expressed surprise that federal, not state, prosecutors are investigating. He said, however, that he does not question the authority of federal officials to conduct a probe. "It would seem that Maryland, as [representative of] state taxpayers, city taxpayers, would have the primary interest in investigating and rooting out corruption by their own elected officials," he said.

State prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli said federal and state officials have the authority to investigate allegations of public corruption. He said his office is not investigating the council and has no immediate plans to do so. "I think the state and the federal prosecutors would have joint interest in it, but we're not doing an investigation with them," he said.

Many elected officials on the all-Democratic council said the federal prosecutors were politically motivated. DiBiagio is a Republican appointed by President Bush.

The council members who said they have received subpoenas are Kwame Osayaba Abayomi, Carter, Robert W. Curran, Kenneth N. Harris Sr., Melvin L. Stukes and Bernard C. "Jack" 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.

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; any loans; non-council income or consulting fees; council office employees; and official actions related to Greenwald or Hale, owner of the Baltimore Blast soccer team and chairman of 1st Mariner Bank.

Hale said he did not receive a subpoena and has no idea why his name would be on it.

"This came so out of the blue. ... I don't know where it is coming from," Hale said.

He said his bank had researched the question and found that it had not provided loans to council members.

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