Dixon inquiry continues

Investigators take material from former campaign chairman whose firm did city work

August 22, 2006|By DOUG DONOVAN | DOUG DONOVAN,SUN REPORTER

State investigators removed several computers and boxes of documents during a recent search of the home of Baltimore City Council President Sheila Dixon's former campaign chairman, whose firm was paid $500,000 for government work performed without a contract.

It was the second time this summer that officials from the Maryland state prosecutor's office searched the home of a minority city contractor with ties to Dixon - an indication that the probe launched five months ago into the council president is continuing.

Baltimore County police spokesman Bill Toohey said yesterday that officers assisted state investigators in searching the Pikesville home of Dale G. Clark, who until earlier this year had been the council's computer network manager for nearly a decade.

A law enforcement source familiar with the investigation said officers removed several computers and boxes of documents early Thursday from Clark's Tentmill Lane home in the apartment complex of St. Charles at Olde Court.

Toohey said the reasons listed in the warrant are not public information because the investigation is still open.

"We did it on behalf of the Maryland state prosecutor's office," Toohey said. "It is their investigation."

The Maryland state prosecutor, Robert A. Rohrbaugh, said yesterday that his office never confirms nor denies the existence of investigations.

Clark, president of Ultimate Network Integration, said yesterday that his attorney had advised him not to speak about the probe.

"On the advice of counsel, I cannot comment," Clark said.

His attorney, James Wiggins of Baltimore, said he would not confirm the search nor comment on any aspect of the case.

"You can talk your way into trouble," Wiggins said. "You can't always talk your way out of trouble."

In March, acting on a request from Rohrbaugh's office, a city grand jury issued subpoenas ordering city officials to turn over documents detailing how and why the city paid $600,000 to Clark for six years. For five of those years, Clark's company made $500,000 without a contract.

City procurement rules require that all contracts over $5,000 be approved by the five-member Board of Estimates, which is chaired by Dixon and includes Comptroller Joan M. Pratt, Mayor Martin O'Malley and two mayoral Cabinet members. The subpoenas demanded records from the council, O'Malley's finance department and the board, which oversees city spending.

The subpoenas came a day after The Sun first reported that Clark managed the council's computer system between March 2000 and the end of February. For five of those six years, Clark's company worked and was paid without a contract - even after the city hired another firm in May 2005 to perform the same work.

Clark's work arrangement continued despite Dixon's acknowledgment in 2001 - in response to an earlier Sun story - that her office erred in not getting board approval to extend his contract. At the time, Dixon admitted she was wrong for giving Clark a no-bid contract and promised to secure a contractor through competitive bidding.

The city then sought bids for the council's computer services contract four times - rejecting all proposals each time for various technical reasons. Clark continued to get the work.

After The Sun revealed the arrangement in March, Dixon reprimanded her chief of staff, Beatrice Tripps, and suspended her deputy chief of staff, Carolyn Blakeney, for one week without pay.

Dixon has refused to comment specifically on the investigation, other than to accuse The Sun of printing "lies" about her and her staff and to acknowledge that her staff had made mistakes.

Her attorney, Dale P. Kelberman, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Tens of thousands of pages of documents turned over to prosecutors this year and obtained by The Sun revealed that Tripps discussed in 2001 a plan that for the past five years circumvented city rules - including the city's minority subcontractor ordinance - in order to employ Clark.

The plan, spelled out in a May 3, 2001, e-mail from Tripps to Clark, called for paying Clark as a selected source via direct purchase orders for amounts under $5,000.

The mayor's information technology office now handles the council's computer network under its contract with TeleCommunications Systems Inc. of Annapolis.

TCS's minority subcontractor has been Union Technologies Inc., or Utech, which is also the subject of subpoenas from state prosecutor's office because of its ties to Dixon.

The council president's sister, Janice Dixon, has worked for Utech. The city banned Utech from winning city contracts earlier this year after a series of stories in The Sun revealed that the firm was hiring other companies to perform its work. The city found that Utech had lied about its abilities in order to qualify for certain contracts.

Utech's status as a minority firm certified by City Hall led to it being named as the subcontractor on two major housing developments by Doracon Contracting, a firm headed by Ronald H. Lipscomb, an O'Malley ally.

State prosecutors searched the offices of Utech and the home of its owner, Mildred E. Boyer, in June and seized several boxes of documents, police officials and witnesses said.

doug.donovan@baltsun.com

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