Indictment of Md. power

Prosecutors confront twists and challenges in Bromwell corruption case

March 15, 2007|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,Sun reporter

Five years ago, Thomas L. Bromwell Sr. learned how deeply FBI agents had penetrated his inner circle.

James Eick, a Bromwell friend, had agreed to wear a recording device for federal agents. He was to capture any potentially incriminating conversations with the former Maryland state senator suspected of accepting illegal kickbacks while in office, according to prosecutors.

Then Eick secretly switched sides.

Eick warned Bromwell in November 2002 that he was wired, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen O. Gavin wrote in court papers. Eick's FBI handlers did not learn of the double cross until March 2005, according to prosecutors.

The newly revealed twist underscores the extraordinary challenges that federal authorities faced in assembling a corruption case against Bromwell, once among the state's most powerful politicians. The Baltimore County Democrat resigned in May 2002 to lead the Injured Workers' Insurance Fund.

Jury selection was to begin today in U.S. District Court in Baltimore for Bromwell, 58, and his wife, who face federal racketeering conspiracy charges. But District Judge J. Frederick Motz abruptly delayed the start of the trial yesterday, citing undisclosed "attorney conflict issues," and said jury selection will begin March 26.

Motz wrote that he intends to unseal Friday some of the secret documents that The Sun requested in a hearing last week.

Separately, a federal appeals court upheld yesterday Motz's earlier ruling that the government was entitled to seize assets from the Bromwells before their trial.

Federal charges

In a sweeping, 80-page indictment in October 2005, federal prosecutors accused Bromwell of accepting bribes from a local construction company executive in exchange for help in securing publicly funded contracts.

Mary Patricia Bromwell, 43, is accused of accepting a salary for a no-show job at a subcontractor controlled by the same construction company, Poole and Kent, in return for her husband's influence.

The Bromwells have denied the charges. If convicted, each could be sentenced to decades in prison.

At its core, the jury must decide whether Bromwell and his wife were paid off for helping a company run by a corrupt CEO who flouted a law designed to help minorities or, as defense attorneys argue, they were targeted unfairly for constituent service and deal-making on behalf of a legitimate local business.

The trial is expected to last at least two months and will showcase one of the larger public corruption investigations in recent state history. Motz, who will preside, is experienced with political corruption cases in Maryland. In 2000, he sentenced lobbyist Gerard E. Evans to 2 1/2 years in prison for fraud.

"He took advantage of a culture of corruption that has been tolerated by lobbyists, legislators and the citizens of Maryland," Motz said in the Evans case. "The evidence in this case has revealed that there is a mess in Annapolis."

Wide connections

Potential witnesses in the Bromwell case include a state legislator, one of the city's wealthiest developers and several former state Cabinet secretaries, court papers show.

Fifteen others who have been mentioned as potential witnesses have criminal records, prosecutors wrote, including a man charged with six counts of attempted murder.

New court filings provide further revelations about the prosecution's case, describing several former Poole and Kent employees as admitted liars, thieves and cheaters who tried to cover up misdeeds that benefited themselves and the Bromwells.

As prosecutors lay out their evidence in the complex racketeering case, other legislators could find themselves caught up in the scandal.

W. David Stoffregen, the former Poole and Kent president who was indicted with the Bromwells and pleaded guilty last year, told federal investigators that he gave "cash and other benefits to other elected officials," according to court documents submitted last week by prosecutors.

The documents do not name the politicians.

Stoffregen, who mingled often with politicians and power brokers, rose to become a well-known leader in the building trade and a substantial contributor to political campaigns.

His downfall was equally dramatic.

In court papers filed with his guilty plea in November, Stoffregen agreed to forfeit more than $5.6 million in illegal profits, including theft from his company. According to sentencing guidelines, Stoffregen faces a minimum of 6 1/2 years in prison.

Rocked by the scandal, the company separately agreed in June to pay Baltimore more than $800,000 in restitution, conceding that the company had used a sham minority-run firm to secure city contracts.

Poole and Kent also pledged to increase its contracts with minority- and female- owned firms by $1 million in three years. The plumbing and steam-fitting contractor has won multimillion- dollar state and local projects, including the Ravens football stadium and a major terminal expansion at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

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