Letters to court praise ex-senator who took bribes

Ruppersberger, Hale, dozens more seek mercy for Bromwell

November 14, 2007|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,SUN REPORTER

From office secretaries to elected officeholders, nearly 60 people sympathetic to former state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell submitted letters in court papers yesterday ahead of his sentencing on bribery charges in federal court in Baltimore.

In more than 70 pages of passionate and personal letters about the convicted Baltimore County Democrat, Bromwell's friends - from his dry cleaner to his congressman, Democratic Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger - wax nostalgic about his accomplishments during 23 years in the General Assembly and plead for mercy in the wake of the former politician's admission of guilt.

Last night, federal prosecutors shot back, saying in papers filed in U.S. District Court that the judge on Friday should impose a prison term near eight years, the top end of the recommended sentencing guidelines.

"Many citizens have written letters on his behalf, but politicians distribute many benefits during their time in office, and most politicians who get caught selling their offices can be expected to assemble an array of friends and political allies to tell the sentencing judge that they were really good people," Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kathleen O. Gavin and Michael J. Leotta wrote in their sentencing memorandum.

They continued: "Bromwell would like this court to believe that his offensive, abusive and corrupt remarks recorded by cooperating government witnesses were an exception. ... It is unlikely that his remarks on that occasion were a departure from his character. It is far more likely that Bromwell's friends have overlooked or ignored Bromwell's true character."

Bromwell, 58, is scheduled to be sentenced after admitting that he accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in payoffs from a Baltimore construction company executive in return for securing publicly funded contracts.

Sentencing guidelines call for a federal prison term for Bromwell of at least 6 1/2 years. But his defense attorney is asking Judge J. Frederick Motz to depart downward from the recommended guidelines, based in large part on the persuasive power of the letters.

Prominent names in addition to Ruppersberger - who wrote the judge at Bromwell's request - include Edwin F. Hale Sr., chairman of 1st Mariner Bank, who had placed Bromwell on his board. Hale did not return a phone call seeking comment last night.

Other letter writers include former state Sen. Francis X. Kelly Jr., retired Baltimore County police Maj. Pat Hanges, former Maryland Health Secretary Nelson J. Sabatini, and Thomas Phelan, who replaced Bromwell as head of Maryland's largest insurance fund for injured employees.

Among the lesser-known are his next-door neighbor, his son's former football coach and dozens of residents of northeastern Baltimore County, where Bromwell's family owned a tavern and once dominated the local political scene.

They recounted emotional stories of Bromwell's often-unseen kindness, from his gift of Orioles tickets to a family who had never been to Camden Yards to a personal call from the then-senator to the boss of a dyslexic worker who was about to lose his job because of his disability.

"Together they tell the story of Tom Bromwell better than any sentencing memorandum possibly could," Bromwell's lawyer Barry J. Pollack wrote in court papers filed yesterday.

The correspondence paints a portrait in stark contrast to the dark image of Bromwell captured by secret FBI tapes - a swaggering, name-dropping, often profane politician who claimed to have ties to the state's most powerful who would gladly enrich Bromwell and his friends.

After the disclosure of secret FBI recordings made with a government informant, Bromwell, once one of the most powerful politicians in Annapolis as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, was "branded a racist and misogynist," in the words of his own attorney after the ex-senator offered up vulgar, boastful and caustic comments about nationally recognized civil rights leaders and a past Maryland governor.

The letter-writing campaign now hopes to bolster Bromwell's chances in court and counteract the impact of the tapes. In his letter, James R. Simms, a longtime friend who works for the state police, defended Bromwell by saying that "lifelong buddies know that much of this language was just `Big Man Talk' from Tommy and we would know not to take it to heart or too seriously."

Hundreds of pages of transcribed tapes were unsealed only months before Bromwell and his wife decided to plead guilty to leveraging his political power to help Baltimore-based Poole and Kent in exchange for more than $200,000 in cash, bogus salary and discounted home-improvement materials. His wife, Mary Patricia, admitted she accepted a salary for a no-show job at a contractor controlled by Poole and Kent in return for her husband's intervention in contract talks.

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