Company official in Bromwell case charged

Prosecutors say Regional Air Systems president lied to grand jury about bill for work in ex-senator's home

January 19, 2007|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,Sun reporter

The president of a heating and air conditioning company that worked at the Baltimore County home of Thomas L. Bromwell Sr. was charged yesterday with lying to a grand jury about backdating a bill for the former state senator, who is now under indictment.

Federal prosecutors accused James B. Digman Sr., 62, of Forest Hill of failing to disclose the nature of the bill his company, Regional Air Systems, prepared for work done on Bromwell's home in June 2001. According to court papers, prosecutors say Digman then lied when he said he knew nothing about backdating another invoice he prepared for the same work in 2002, a document he sent directly to Bromwell. The invoice, prosecutors said, charged only half of the actual cost of the work.

The backdated invoice was also created long before Bromwell belatedly paid the bill in October of 2003, according to prosecutors.

Yesterday, the Maryland U.S. attorney's office charged Digman by criminal information, as opposed to a grand jury indictment or criminal complaint. A charge by criminal information indicates that a guilty plea is likely in the case. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

His attorney, Roger L. Harris, declined to say whether Digman planned to plead guilty at a court hearing scheduled for Jan. 29 in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. But the attorney did say, "I think [Digman] is prepared to accept any responsibility he has to with respect to the matter that's pending against him."

In October 2005, a federal grand jury indicted Bromwell, accusing him of accepting bribes from a local construction company official, Poole and Kent President W. David Stoffregen, who was vying for millions of dollars in state contracts.

The charges allege that the Baltimore County Democrat, his wife, Mary Pat, and Stoffregen colluded in a complex scheme of payoffs and contract fraud that abused a system intended to help companies run by women or minorities.

Over five years, the Bromwells were paid almost $300,000 by Stoffregen in the form of free home construction work - including work done by Regional Air - and a salary to Mary Pat Bromwell for a no-show job at a "front" company posing as a female-owned subcontractor, according to the indictment. It was really operated by Poole and Kent, prosecutors charge.

Stoffregen, who is no longer with Poole and Kent, pleaded guilty last year in a deal with prosecutors. The Bromwells, who have pleaded not guilty, are scheduled to go to trial in March. Their attorneys did not return phone calls for comment.

It was unclear yesterday whether Regional - once a city-approved contractor and substantial contributor to political campaigns - was still an active business. Telephone numbers for the company, with listings in Baltimore and Upper Marlboro, were either busy or disconnected yesterday.

Court papers show that Regional Air Systems was a Prince George's County-based construction company that specialized in commercial sheet metal contracting, working almost exclusively as a subcontractor to Poole and Kent.

According to the indictment filed against Bromwell, Poole and Kent pulled the strings at Regional. "Stoffregen and other employees of Poole and Kent acting at his direction controlled and managed all accounting, billing and financial matters and functions of Regional," the indictment says.

Prosecutors accused Poole and Kent and Regional with providing for free, or at a substantially reduced cost, labor, materials and equipment for construction work at Bromwell's Ravenridge Road residence. The work was worth more than $85,000, according to court papers.

In 2000, Poole and Kent directed Regional to build and install the air-conditioning sheet metal for the Bromwell home, according to the indictment.

Prosecutors said in court papers that Poole and Kent directed Regional to record costs of approximately $23,555 for the Bromwell work performed.

But on Oct. 4, 2003, Bromwell paid only $12,531, court papers said.

Prosecutors wrote that on June 6, 2002, Bromwell failed to list the discounted work on a financial disclosure statement form, as required under Maryland law.

When Digman was asked about the irregular billing at a grand jury in January 2005, he falsely pleaded ignorance, according to prosecutors.

"As you sit here today, do you yourself have any recollection of putting together a bill for Senator Bromwell's house?" a federal prosecutor asked Digman, according to court documents.

"I don't remember it," he replied.

"So you have no recollection of doing it?"

"No, ma'am."

Digman's company also had ties to other political candidates in Maryland. Campaign records show Regional Air has given $2,000 to Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, a Baltimore Democrat. The company donated the same amount to former Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and former gubernatorial candidate Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

The Sun reported in August of 1999 that Regional Air had contributed a total of $2,000 to Baltimore mayoral candidates. By December 2001, the contractor had become one of almost 40 companies or individuals who surpassed campaign donation limits because their contributions to candidates in Maryland exceeded the maximum $10,000 during a four-year election cycle.

matthew.dolan@baltsun.com

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