17 of 19 council members served

Only Cain and Branch have not said if they received U.S. subpoenas

November 06, 2003|By Doug Donovan | Doug Donovan,SUN STAFF

All but two of the Baltimore City Council's 19 members have acknowledged receiving subpoenas from federal prosecutors investigating the elected officials' finances, hiring practices and dealings with two local businessmen.

Only council members Paula Johnson Branch and John L. Cain have not said whether they have received subpoenas that U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio issued to the council in two separate batches since September. But most of their council colleagues said all council members have been subpoenaed.

Despite calls and visits to their offices, Branch and Cain could not be reached for comment yesterday.

DiBiagio's office issued grand jury subpoenas to at least seven council members Sept. 11. A second round of nearly identical subpoenas to most of the remaining 12 council members were delivered to council offices Friday.

Councilwoman Lois A. Garey said she did not receive a subpoena in either batch and that she called and asked DiBiagio's office to mail it to her home. It arrived Tuesday, she said.

Council Vice President Stephanie C. Rawlings Blake and council member Edward L. Reisinger said yesterday that their subpoenas had been kept at Council President Sheila Dixon's office. Reisinger picked his up yesterday; Rawlings Blake said she has not seen hers.

Each subpoena asks council members for "all documents" concerning financial, political and professional dealings dating back five years.

In addition, the subpoenas request information on official actions taken related to two businessmen and their primary interests -- Ben Greenwald, vice president of Arrow Parking; and Edwin F. Hale Sr., chairman of 1st Mariner Bank and owner of the Baltimore Blast soccer team. The second set of subpoenas also request all office expenses.

Most council members said they believe the subpoenas were fueled by articles in The Sun reporting that 10 council 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.

The city's Board of Ethics ruled last month that council members violated ethics rules by accepting the free parking passes. In addition, the panel said three council members who hired siblings as assistants -- Cain, Pamela V. Carter and Dixon -- breached ethics rules.

Carter and Dixon said they would fire their siblings.

Most council members said yesterday that they had not hired lawyers and that they were relying on legal advice of the city solicitor, Thurman W. Zollicoffer Jr.

"Why would I [hire a lawyer]?" Reisinger said, echoing a common refrain from his colleagues. "I haven't done anything wrong."

Council members have deemed the investigation a political witch hunt by a Republican prosecutor against an all-Democrat council.

"It just further embarrasses the council without merit," Rawlings Blake said. "This is malicious."

She said none of the council members deliberately violated ethics rules by accepting passes and hiring relatives. She said the city's Department of Legislative Reference never explained to council members that such long-standing behavior could be questioned.

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