Subcontractor admits lying about Bromwell billing

He tells court he backdated invoice for work at ex-senator's home

January 30, 2007|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,Sun reporter

Prosecutors added to their stable of potential witnesses against former state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell Sr. yesterday after a subcontractor admitted in court that he lied about billing for work his firm completed at the former Baltimore County senator's home.

James B. Digman Sr., 62, of Forest Hill, who was president of Regional Air Systems, a Maryland sheet metal company, pleaded guilty to lying before a federal grand jury about a duplicate invoice he prepared for Bromwell to try to throw off investigators.

"Mr. Digman expects to be called as a witness for the prosecution at the Bromwell trial," Digman's lawyer, Roger L. Harris, said after the hearing in U.S. District Court yesterday afternoon.

Regional Air installed ductwork in buildings for heating and air conditioning from 1998 until early last year, but the company, according to court papers, was controlled by Poole and Kent, a Baltimore-based mechanical contractor.

Prosecutors wrote that Poole and Kent, run at that time by former president W. David Stoffregen, determined the contracts on which Regional Air would bid and handled its accounting and financial matters. The subcontractor worked almost exclusively for Poole and Kent "and therefore almost always issued bills for its work directly to the mechanical contractor," prosecutors wrote.

In October 2005, a federal grand jury indicted Bromwell, accusing him of accepting bribes from 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. With Digman's plea yesterday, prosecutors now have seven defendants who have pleaded guilty in related cases and agreed to testify on behalf of prosecutors against the Bromwells, who have pleaded not guilty.

The Baltimore County couple is scheduled to go to trial in March.

In early 2001, a Poole and Kent official instructed Regional Air to install ductwork in the Bromwells' home, court papers show. After the work was done, Digman sent an invoice in June 2001 to the contractor, Poole and Kent, requesting payment of $25,849. As was their practice with Digman, Poole and Kent paid the bill, prosecutors said.

The next year, after learning that law enforcement was investigating Bromwell, a Poole and Kent official told Digman to create a second invoice for the work done on the senator's residence. This time, he was told to send the invoice to the senator and to reduce the amount charged by one-half, according to court papers filed as part of Digman's guilty plea.

Digman obliged, creating a second invoice for $12,531 and backdating it to June 5, 2001. On April 13, 2005, Digman testified before a federal grand jury investigating the work, but falsely claimed that he never billed Poole and Kent directly for the work.

Digman faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison but is likely to receive a much lighter sentence because of his cooperation with prosecutors and his clean criminal record, according to his lawyer.

No date has been set for sentencing.

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