Dixon judge orders disclosure

Prosecutor in corruption case told to list relevant projects, businesses

April 01, 2009|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,annie.linskey@baltsun.com

The judge in the public corruption case against Mayor Sheila Dixon has ruled that the state prosecutor's office will have to provide her attorneys with a list of all of the real estate projects and business entities that could be at issue in the trial, and the developer accused of providing her with gifts asked Tuesday that a separate bribery case against him be dropped.

Developer Ronald H. Lipscomb included in court papers a copy of the poll he paid for in City Councilwoman Helen L. Holton's 2007 re-election bid. He argued that the poll was a campaign contribution, not a bribe, and that the charges against him should be dismissed.

Dixon has been accused of perjury for accepting gifts from Lipscomb without claiming them on her city ethics forms. She was also accused of stealing gift cards intended for needy families. She has said she is innocent of both charges. Lipscomb and Holton have also said they are innocent.

Dixon attorney Arnold Weiner, who has made the precise nature of Lipscomb's business relationship with the city an issue in the case, said information about the entities the state prosecutor has focused on is "essential for the defendant so that there be no surprises at trial."

Weiner has argued that although development projects Lipscomb was a partner in received tax breaks, those partnerships did not meet the Baltimore ethics code's definition of an entity doing business with the city. Weiner has said his interpretation of the ethics code is that officials only have to disclose gifts from a business during the calendar year in which it received a city contract.

In court last week, State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh said Lipscomb did business via a number of legal entities that "morphed" into each other as he and others built homes, hotels and offices. Rohrbaugh at one point listed 57 limited liability companies connected to the developer in an affidavit for a search-and-seizure warrant.

Judge Dennis M. Sweeney's order allows state prosecutors to supplement their responses, meaning that the list they provide could change over time.

In his court filing yesterday, Lipscomb argued that the poll, conducted a month before the September 2007 Democratic primary, was a "legitimate political expense."

Polls in City Council races are not unusual even in noncompetitive elections, said Herb Smith, a partner with The Democracy Group, a Maryland political consulting business. "At first glance it might appear overly paranoid," Smith said. "But the successful incumbents are the ones who always run scared, which means doing everything you can do."

What was unusual, Smith said, was that Lipscomb paid the bill.

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