Norris' lawyers seek plea deal in fund misuse

New federal tax charges complicate his defense

March 06, 2004|By Gail Gibson and Del Quentin Wilber | Gail Gibson and Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Former Baltimore Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris, widely credited with reshaping the city's troubled police force before he became Maryland's state police superintendent, was scheduled to appear in federal court Monday as attorneys worked to reach a plea deal in the conspiracy and tax case against him, sources said yesterday.

Norris, 43, is expected before U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett for arraignment on new charges brought this week alleging that Norris violated tax law by failing to report income he received from an off-the-books city police account that was used for personal expenditures.

The tax charges were added to a four-count indictment, first brought in December, alleging that Norris misappropriated more than $20,000 from the loosely structured expense account to pay for lavish meals, alcohol and gifts and to finance extramarital affairs while he headed the city department.

Norris, who resigned his state police post the day he was indicted, has said he did nothing wrong. But sources familiar with the case said the additional tax charges would make the case more difficult for Norris to defend at trial, and his attorneys were working to reach a plea deal with federal prosecutors that could be presented in court Monday.

No agreement had been reached last night, they said.

Norris could not be reached to comment. Reached by phone, two of his lawyers - David B. Irwin and Joseph Murtha - said they could not comment on the case.

Vickie E. LeDuc, a spokeswoman for Maryland U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio, also declined to comment.

Unreported income

The new tax counts accuse Norris of making false statements on his federal tax returns by failing to report money he used from the expense account, which was originally a Depression-era charity fund that evolved into a discretionary spending account controlled by the police commissioner.

According to this week's indictment, Norris reported earning $221,755 in 2000, $206,340 in 2001 and $201,288 in 2002 when he "well and truly knew [that] his true adjusted gross income and total tax were substantially higher."

The original indictment against Norris also charged him with lying on a mortgage application.

Norris' use of the spending account was first documented in articles in The Sun in August 2002. The charges against him closely track what the newspaper reported, with the indictment alleging that Norris and his former chief of staff, John Stendrini, wrote authorization letters to obtain checks from the department's fiscal unit saying the expenses were for legitimate purposes.

Stendrini was indicted along with Norris in December on charges that included obstruction of justice. He has pleaded not guilty.

Norris authorized the spending of a little more than $159,000 from the fund during his tenure, much of it for legitimate purposes.

Gifts and trips

The indictment said Norris also used money from the fund to purchase items for three different women from the lingerie store Victoria's Secret on the day before Valentine's Day in 2001, to stock his home with liquor, to buy personal gifts and clothing, and to pay for trips to New York for romantic liaisons.

Federal prosecutors alleged that Norris had romantic encounters with at least six women, who were not identified in court papers.

Norris is married and has a young son. He and his family have been in living in Florida in recent months, although his wife, Kathryn Norris, appeared with him in U.S. District Court in Baltimore at his original arraignment in December.

Norris pleaded not guilty at that hearing. In a brief statement to reporters outside the courthouse, the blunt-speaking, former New York officer - who swept into Baltimore and won praise for lowering the homicide rate - thanked "all the people who made it possible during the last 24 years for me to lead the police departments and protect the citizens in New York City, Baltimore City and the state of Maryland."

"Right now, my wife and I are leaving to figure out what we're going to do next," he said at the time.

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