Ex-Dixon aide Clark charged

Former campaign chairman accused of failing to file

Sun Follow-up

August 31, 2007|By Doug Donovan and John Fritze | Doug Donovan and John Fritze,SUN REPORTERS

The Maryland state prosecutor charged Mayor Sheila Dixon's former campaign chairman yesterday with failing to file state income tax returns for three of the six years in which he earned $500,000 working without a contract as the Baltimore City Council's computer consultant.

The misdemeanor charges come less than two weeks before the Sept. 11 Democratic primary and are providing Dixon's challengers fodder to remind voters of contract controversies that dogged the former council president last year.

Maryland State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh's office charged Dale G. Clark with failure to file state income tax returns in 2002, 2003 and 2004. The maximum penalty for each count is five years in jail and a $10,000 fine - though probation, fines and community service are most likely. No arraignment date has been set.

Clark, 45, was Dixon's campaign chairman from early 1996 to April 6, 2001. They have been friends since the 1980s.

Dixon said last year that Clark's work was handled incorrectly and punished her chief of staff and a deputy after The Sun detailed his dealings with the city. Yesterday, Dixon again stated regret for the way the computer contract was handled. But she also expressed sympathy for Clark, a fellow parishioner at Bethel AME church.

"It's unfortunate that this has happened to Dale Clark, especially with so much tragedy in his life," Dixon said, referring to the deaths of his father and brother this year. "Our prayers go out to him and his family."

Dixon's attorney, Dale P. Kelberman, responded to the charges by saying that they do not indicate that Rohrbaugh, after an investigation lasting nearly a year and a half, has turned up fraudulent activity related to Dixon.

"She didn't have anything to do with [Clark's] taxes," Kelberman said. "He's not charged with defrauding the city in any way. Whatever bureaucratic errors occurred had nothing to do with fraud on the taxpayers."

Yet Dixon yesterday made further comments that raised questions about whether prosecutors are investigating her official actions in relation to Clark and to another city computer contractor, Utech, that employed Dixon's sister.

In March 2006 state prosecutors issued subpoenas that produced nearly 27,000 pages of documents from the council's records office, Comcast Cable and other companies and several other city agencies, including phone and e-mail records from Dixon's office. None of the subpoenas named a target.

"I can't explain it because you know it is still under investigation and my attorney has informed me not to talk about it. I would love to," Dixon said yesterday.

Kelberman said the mayor meant that trials of Clark and Utech's owner, Mildred E. Boyer, were still pending, not that Dixon herself was a target.

Clark was charged in a criminal information, which in some cases indicates a defendant is cooperative.

The timing of the charges and Dixon's comments come as she has declined to answer questions - raised by her chief rival, Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. - that she fosters a "pay-to-play" environment in City Hall.

During a televised mayoral debate that aired on WBAL-TV and MPT Monday, a moderator asked Dixon about no-bid contracts issued by her council president's office. She answered by saying the debate was an inappropriate venue to discuss the issue.

"I'm not going to get into that because the truth of it is there was no money spent on no-bid contracts," she said.

Her opponents call the answer evasive and political observers say they believe voters may begin to notice, especially in the last two weeks before the primary when people pay more attention.

"This revives questions that were raised about the ethical status of Mayor Dixon when she was City Council president," said Johns Hopkins University political scientist Matthew Crenson. "I think people, having heard Mayor Dixon during the televised debate saying she didn't want to get into it. ... I think a lot of people now want a fuller explanation."

Such questions about Dixon largely subsided as the mayoral race began this year, but have recently come to the surface again.

"The interim mayor needs to start answering some questions and stop misleading the public," Mitchell said yesterday. "The bottom line is that the interim mayor has not been forthright and whatever has transpired is one step away from her."

The state probe began in March 2006 after The Sun revealed that Clark's computer company, Ultimate Network Integration, had been paid nearly $600,000 over six years, mostly without a contract. The Sun also revealed that Dixon's chief of staff, Beatrice Tripps, in a 2001 e-mail exchange with Clark, discussed a plan to keep payments under $5,000.

City contracts of more than $5,000 must obtain the approval of the city's five-member Board of Estimates, which Dixon chaired as council president.

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