`Mo' Wyatt's power is wielded quietly

Bromwell tapes praise operative from Mandel era

March 24, 2007|By Frederick N. Rasmussen and Andrew A. Green | Frederick N. Rasmussen and Andrew A. Green,Sun Reporters

Caught by an FBI wiretap bragging at a booze-soaked steak dinner about his own political power, Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell Sr. reserved some of his highest praise for the man who was once the golden boy of Annapolis politics: Maurice R. "Mo" Wyatt.

"I love this [expletive] guy," said Bromwell, in his typically salty talk.

The patronage chief and legislative arm-twister for Gov. Marvin Mandel more than three decades ago, Wyatt was a key cog in what many in Annapolis still regard as the most effective gubernatorial administration the capital has seen, Mandel's mail fraud and racketeering convictions notwithstanding.

Today, despite Wyatt's own conviction in a 1980 bribery case, he is still a guy with "major juice," Bromwell said, according to FBI transcripts. And despite an abhorrence of publicity - "Number one, Maurice don't want to be in the limelight," Bromwell said - Wyatt finds himself in the crosshairs of a major federal corruption investigation that has already resulted in Bromwell's indictment and seven guilty pleas.

Wyatt, 64, did not respond to telephone calls placed to his Glen Burnie office. His secretary, after asking who was calling, said he was unavailable.

Described by Bromwell as a multimillionaire who prefers to operate in the shadows where big money and political power intersect, Wyatt makes his money these days as a real estate developer, a financier of bars and the president of a marketing and promotions company that boasts that it does business worldwide. And, according to Bromwell, as a facilitator: "This guy knows anybody and everybody you want to know. ... This guy is going to get you - you make money."

Among Wyatt's powerful friends, according to the transcripts, is John Paterakis, the H&S Bakery magnate and developer of Harbor East. "He's very close ... with the bread man," said Bromwell.

Paterakis has not responded to calls for comment on the Bromwell tapes.

After then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer, quietly and without fanfare, granted Wyatt executive clemency in 1991 for his bribery conviction, Paterakis was one of nearly two dozen luminaries who wrote letters to the Maryland Court of Appeals, urging that his law license be restored. It finally was in 1996.

Another letter writer was former U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, who said she wrote "because I didn't think he was a bad guy. He's a nice guy. ... He's always been able, knew what to do, who to call and when to do it. He's very competent,"

Though Wyatt is seldom - if ever - seen in Annapolis these days, he remains a living link to a bygone era of politics in the capital stretching back four decades.

After Mandel became governor in 1969, succeeding Spiro T. Agnew following his election as vice president, Wyatt became a member of "a tight circle of aides to the former governor known as the `Mandelniks,'" according to a 1993 profile in The Sun. "He was as much a legislative lobbyist as he was patronage chief," the article said.

"He was one of the administration's lobbyists known as `The Corporation' for their legislative `arm twisting' abilities in making sure `what Marvin wants, Marvin gets,' as the expression went at the time."

Wyatt was still in his 20s at the time, barely out of the University of Baltimore Law School, but he had a political pedigree. His father, Joseph M. Wyatt, was Maryland's youngest state senator when he was first elected in 1934 at age 28. He served two four-year terms as Senate president and remained there until 1962.

While serving in Annapolis, the elder Wyatt was also a part-time Traffic Court magistrate and later was appointed chief magistrate of the court.

Young Maurice was 8 years old when he worked in his first election, and by 1953, was serving as a page in the U.S. House of Representatives. He then became an aide to three Democratic congressmen from Baltimore and managed U.S. Sen. Daniel B. Brewster's unsuccessful re-election campaign in 1968.

"Mo was one of the first appointments Marvin made. He had first met him during Hubert H. Humphrey's presidential campaign in 1968," said Frank A. DeFilippo, a former press secretary to Mandel who is now a political commentator and writer.

"He was one of the smoothest and most skillful political operatives I've ever met. He was very charming and witty and good company to be with," said DeFilippo who last saw Wyatt two months ago at Schaefer's 85th birthday party.

In a rare interview with The Washington Post in 1987, Wyatt said, "What I loved to do after we worked a bill, after all the lobbying, the patronage, the arguing, was to go up in the gallery and stand off to the side where no legislators could see me and just watch the votes light up on the tote board."

It was an era when Maryland was especially rife with corruption.

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