A scramble for documents

City Council members seek to comply with prosecutors' inquiry into spending

October 03, 2008|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,annie.linskey@baltsun.com

Some City Council members are scrambling to provide documents to satisfy the latest demand for information by state prosecutors who want to know about four development projects related to a probe into City Hall spending.

"They want correspondence, e-mails," said Councilman Robert W. Curran. "They did a broad-brush, shotgun approach."

Curran, whose district does not include any of the four projects, said, "I don't have any information" that would interest prosecutors.

Each project mentioned in the latest round of subpoenas involves prominent developer Ronald H. Lipscomb, who gave Mayor Sheila Dixon thousands of dollars in gifts when she was the president of the City Council and in a position to influence those projects.

Dixon and Lipscomb acknowledge having a personal relationship, though they both said it did not affect their work.

Dixon refused to take questions on any topic at two of her public events yesterday and left a City Hall news conference before all speakers had finished.

The prospect of subpoenas reminded some council members of the 18-month City Council investigation by then-U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio in late 2003 after a series of Sun articles revealing that half of the members of the City Council had relatives on their staffs. The council had 19 members at the time, and each of them received a broad subpoena that Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr. called a "fishnet" that "tried to get people to talk." No charges were filed.

D'Adamo said he was told by city attorneys this week that he might be subpoenaed. One of the four projects is in his district.

A group of developers, including Lipscomb, bought land for the Hollander 95 commercial project, on Pulaski Highway near an entrance to Interstate 95, from the city in early 2007 for $4 million.

The councilman said that he was not involved with the project and had been "excluded" from discussions about it, so would have little to give prosecutors, if asked. But others council members do have to begin pulling information. Councilman Bernard C. "Jack" Young said lawyers want phone records and calendar entries related to some of the projects. He declined to say which ones or elaborate further. One of the projects, the Railroad Express Lofts on St. Paul Street, is in his district. Lipscomb was the general contractor on that project.

Another project receiving increased attention is a proposed community center at 2101 E. Biddle St. The city acquired the building in 2002 with a $500,000 state grant obtained by Del. Talmadge Branch, a Baltimore Democrat. Branch later helped usher through another $300,000 for design and construction.

Last year, the city Board of Estimates, a panel that Dixon controls, awarded a company connected to Lipscomb a contract to "facilitate development" of the project, according to a 2007 affidavit for a search warrant for Lipscomb's offices. According to the affidavit, Lipscomb would "contract the operation and $800,000 in improvements" to Biddle Street Sports LLC, a corporate entity that has not been created.

Councilman James B. Kraft, whose district includes another Lipscomb-related project, the Spinnaker Bay apartment complex, said he has not been contacted by city attorneys aiding in the document collection. Dixon voted to approve a $13.6 million tax break for the project on Feb. 18, 2004, and took a trip to New York with Lipscomb the same day, court documents say.

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