Financial probe of Miller dropped

FBI inquiry into president of Senate had focused on racing group's donations

September 10, 2004|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Federal investigators have closed a preliminary inquiry into state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller's slots-related fund-raising activities after finding no evidence of wrongdoing.

FBI Special Agent in Charge Kevin L. Perkins notified Miller's attorney yesterday that authorities had stopped investigating two $100,000 donations in the fall of 2002 from a racing group controlled by track owner Joseph A. De Francis to a national legislative committee headed by Miller.

"It was alleged in published reports that the contributions were made in an effort to influence your client to provide support of pending legislation permitting slot machines in Maryland racetracks," Perkins wrote.

"The FBI's investigation into this matter did not identify evidence of illegal activity related to these two donations. Based on the results of the investigation, I directed, with the concurrence of the United States Attorney, that our case be closed."

The preliminary inquiry was first reported in July last year by The Washington Post, as part of an examination of campaign donations from Maryland-based businesses to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which Miller heads.

The committee in turn spent heavily on Maryland legislative races, though legislatures elsewhere were at greater risk of losing their Democratic majorities.

As investigators questioned lawmakers and lobbyists in Annapolis, the inquiry hung over Miller, whose 18-year tenure makes him one of the nation's longest-serving presiding legislative officers. A Senate building bears his name, a rare honor for a politician still in office.

Miller was out of state yesterday and could not be reached for comment. In a statement released by his attorney, Dale P. Kelberman, Miller thanked family, friends and colleagues for their support.

"Now that the federal government has concluded, like the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee and the state prosecutor, that there was no misconduct on my part, I am looking forward to putting this matter behind me and focusing upon my passion of serving the public and the Democratic Party to the best of my ability," Miller said.

"We never thought at the outset that he did anything wrong," said Kelberman, adding that the inquiry was closed with no information being presented to a grand jury. "We're glad to see his reputation is untarnished."

De Francis visited Miller in August 2002, according to records reviewed by the Post, and wrote a pair of $100,000 checks a few weeks later. After the election of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. that year, the state Senate passed a gambling bill that would have allowed slot machines at the Pimlico and Laurel racetracks co-owned by De Francis.

A longtime slots supporter, Miller has said he did not know how much De Francis donated, and did not agree to a quid pro quo for the donations.

"I never had any doubt whatsoever that Senator Miller [had not] committed any wrongdoing," said De Francis, who was not a focus of the inquiry. "And I am very pleased that after a very thorough and extensive investigation the FBI and the U.S. attorney have come to the same conclusion."

Despite the end of the federal inquiry, the chain of events looks bad, said James Browning, executive director of the campaign finance watchdog group Common Cause Maryland.

"I think people should keep two things in mind: First, after De Francis' six-figure contribution, Miller pushed a slots bill that would have made millions for De Francis," Browning said. "Second, Miller used this PAC to make a joke of state campaign finance laws, and send extra money to his allies."

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