Dixon says state prosecutor is on a `witch hunt'

December 01, 2007|By John Fritze | John Fritze,Sun reporter

Speaking for the first time since a city agency received a subpoena and the offices of a prominent Baltimore developer were raided, Mayor Sheila Dixon characterized the investigation by state prosecutors yesterday as a witch hunt.

Dixon, who said she has done nothing wrong and who argued she did not know what the Maryland state prosecutor's office is looking into, said she is cooperating with investigators but believes the probe could be politically motivated.

"What would help me is if you go to the state's [prosecutors] and say, `Hey, you've been working on this for this long, you haven't found anything, why don't you end it?'" Dixon told reporters at City Hall. "I don't know what it is [or] why they're doing this witch hunt."

But even as details about renewed activity by investigators emerged this week, Dixon remained quiet about the substantive issues that initiated the inquiry - namely her involvement with city contracts received by a company that employed her sister.

Earlier this week, prosecutors raided the office of Doracon Contracting Inc., owned by Ronald H. Lipscomb, who has ties to the mayor. Months after Dixon and other city officials lobbied for tax subsidies for a development led by Doracon, the company hired a subcontractor that employed Dixon's sister.

In addition to the Doracon search warrant, prosecutors issued a subpoena on the Baltimore Development Corp. last week. The BDC also pushed the City Council to approve subsidies that have gone to projects involving Doracon.

The city has declined to disclose details of the subpoena served on the development agency - a nonprofit charged with negotiating the city's most important development deals - despite repeated requests made by The Sun. The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled last year that the agency's records are public.

An attorney for the Tribune Co., which owns The Sun, said she believes the city must release the document for public review.

"I do believe that The Sun is entitled to receive the subpoena, because [it is] a public record as defined by the public information act," said the attorney, Karen Kaiser. "Any documents that are under their control are public documents unless an exemption applies."

She added that she did not believe any exemptions apply.

"This is a matter of vital public interest about the use of taxpayer money and how it was spent," said Sun editor Timothy A. Franklin. "That makes this very much a public matter that shouldn't be cloaked from taxpayers."

An attorney for the city, however, argued that the administration does not have to release the document, because it involves a continuing investigation. The lawyer also said that because the subpoena originated from the state prosecutor's office, only members of the state prosecutor's office could release it.

When asked about the subpoena yesterday, Dixon deferred to the city solicitor's office.

Sterling Clifford, a Dixon spokesman, said City Hall cannot make the subpoena public, because the prosecutor's office has asked the administration not to. He said the administration contacted the prosecutor after receiving requests from reporters.

"Obviously, we don't want to even create the appearance that we're attempting to interfere with the state prosecutor's work," Clifford said. "They have said that they don't want us to release the subpoena, and we'll respect their wishes."

State prosecutors have declined to comment on the case and could not be reached last night.

In January, days after Dixon began serving out the remainder of Gov. Martin O'Malley's mayoral term, she told reporters that "I hope in the very near future, probably something that I will end up doing despite the advice of my attorneys, is really putting some facts out about that because it's time to bring it to a close and move forward."

Reminded of those statements yesterday, Dixon said she had provided information that had been misquoted in The Sun this week. Asked what she was referring to, Dixon said it was information regarding Frankford Estates - a project that involved Doracon - but added, "I'm not going to go into details here on record."

After the news conference, she said she was referring to an event that The Sun attended. Clifford, the mayor's spokesman, said later in the day he was unsure what event Dixon was referring to.

"From my attorney's advice, it's not over, so I can't come down" and explain her side of the story, she said. "I would love to."

Renewed investigative activity by state prosecutors in the past week has come just days before Dixon is to be sworn into office - potentially casting a pall over her inauguration and her initial days as the city's first elected female mayor. Dixon said she was "disappointed in the timing" yesterday.

Dixon was elected with a wide margin in both the September primary and the November general election despite an ethics cloud that hung over her head as she campaigned this summer.

There was little news involving the investigation for weeks, but it captured attention again at the end of August when a former Dixon campaign chairman was indicted for - and later pleaded guilty to - 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.

Dixon was president of the council at the time.

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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