State seeks more city documents

Long-standing spending probe appears to widen

Sun Exclusive

January 11, 2008|By John Fritze | John Fritze,SUN REPORTER

Baltimore's Finance Department and the offices of the city's powerful Board of Estimates have been ordered to turn over documents to the Maryland state prosecutor's office, which has been engaged in a long-standing investigation at City Hall.

City officials said the subpoenas were served in November but did not reach Mayor Sheila Dixon's Finance Department or the offices of the Board of Estimates until this week because of a mistake by city officials. Their existence has not previously been disclosed publicly.

City Solicitor George Nilson said the subpoenas were issued in tandem with a subpoena served on the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's development agency. Though he did not disclose their contents, Nilson said all three subpoenas seek similar information.

"We've now learned that there were three subpoenas," Nilson said. "They're now being addressed and evaluated."

Records from the city's Finance Department - which oversees the budget as well as day-to-day cash management - and the Board of Estimates are the latest to be turned over to investigators and indicate a widening of the investigation, which began after a series of articles in The Sun questioned spending practices at City Hall. Both agencies were previously subpoenaed in 2006.

Another subpoena was served on a special assistant to Dixon earlier this week. Howard Dixon, who is not related to the mayor, is a retired police officer who is paid $50,000 a year to escort her to events and advise her on security.

Howard Dixon, who accompanied the mayor to an event yesterday, declined to comment when approached by a reporter. City officials said they believe Howard Dixon is being questioned as a witness and is not a target in the probe.

Asked about the subpoena served on her aide, the mayor shrugged off the investigation.

"I'm continuing to move this city forward," Dixon said. "We've got a lot of work to do."

State prosecutors began an investigation into spending practices at City Hall in 2006 after a series of articles in The Sun showed that Dixon, as City Council president, had voted on several contracts that benefited a company, Union Technologies, that employed her sister.

City ethics laws prohibit city officials from influencing contracts that involve family members.

The Sun also reported that Dixon's office had paid $500,000 to her former campaign chairman, Dale G. Clark, for computer services without a contract.

A company named Doracon Contracting Inc. - whose East Biddle Street offices were raided by prosecutors in November - hired Union Technologies as an electrical subcontractor on a number of projects, including one, Frankford Estates, that received tax subsidies from the city.

Union Technology's owner, Mildred E. Boyer, was scheduled to stand trial Monday on charges of forgery, theft and falsifying tax returns, but the case has repeatedly been postponed and now is scheduled for March, court records show.

State prosecutors have declined to comment on the investigation.

When city officials initially received the subpoenas in November, they believed the inquiries were directed only at the Baltimore Development Corp. and that the others were duplicates, Nilson said. He said the city realized this week that it had also received subpoenas for the Board of Estimates and the Department of Finance.

He described the set of three subpoenas as "virtually identical" and said he believed the city would deliver documents on one of them in a matter of days. He said he believed the Baltimore Development Corp. had already turned over its records.

The five-member Board of Estimates meets weekly to approve any spending over $5,000, including contracts and development deals that receive city tax breaks. The mayor, the comptroller and the president of the City Council sit on the board along with the heads of the Public Works and Law departments.

The head of the Department of Finance, Edward J. Gallagher, did not return a call seeking comment. City Comptroller Joan M. Pratt, whose office oversees the operations of the Board of Estimates, said through a spokeswoman that she was not aware of the subpoenas.

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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