Rohrbaugh Defends Dixon Case

Prosecutor Says A Jury Needs To Decide If Mayor Committed Perjury And Theft

April 17, 2009|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,annie.linskey@baltsun.com

State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh defended Thursday the indictment he brought against Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon and asserted in court papers that a jury needs to decide if Dixon falsified ethics forms and stole gift cards intended for needy Baltimore families.

In a 37-page filing that responds to the mayor's request to dismiss the charges, Rohrbaugh takes issue with what he called a "self-serving" affidavit filed by the Dixon-appointed city solicitor in support of her defense. He also argues that Dixon's interpretation of the city ethics code would render that law useless, and says it is proper to charge her with both stealing gift cards and receiving them as gifts - noting that a person can be accused of both robbing a bank and receiving the proceeds of the robbery.

Dixon was charged in January with perjury, theft and misuse of office. She says she is innocent of those charges. Her attorneys, Arnold M. Weiner and Dale P. Kelberman, plan to file a reply Monday. Neither commented Thursday.

Dixon's attorneys have argued that the mayor was not required to report gifts from Ronald H. Lipscomb and Patrick Turner, two prominent city developers, because the men did not fit the definition required in the ethics code to trigger disclosure. Disclosure, they argue, is only needed if the giver is a "party to the transaction" with the city, and they say the two developers were not.

Rohrbaugh responded to that argument by saying businessmen commonly use limited liability companies for complex transactions, and the names of the people behind those entities are masked. "If the Defendants' interpretation of the law is accepted, there would be no need for an ethics disclosure law," Rohrbaugh wrote.

A chart prepared by prosecutors and contained in court files shows that Lipscomb is connected to 27 LLCs used for a dozen development projects that received city support. The list includes LLCs used for Arizona Crossings, the Baltimore Convention Center and Nicks at the Baltimore Yacht Basin - projects that prosecutors have only recently publicly disclosed that they were investigating."Real people control those artificial business entities," Rohrbaugh wrote. "The same real people are the ones who decide what gifts are to be made and to whom."

Dixon's defense attorneys sought to buttress their case with a March affidavit from City Solicitor George A. Nilson, who said public officials do not need to disclose gifts from people who control business entities from behind the scenes.

Nilson's "opinion ... should be viewed as advocating the position taken by the person who appointed him," Rohrbaugh wrote.

Dixon's attorneys have also argued that the mayor was not required to disclose the gifts because the city's ethics commission never kept a proper list of companies doing business with the city.

But Rohrbaugh argued that the absence of such a document is not an adequate excuse for failing to disclose gifts, noting that the lack of a list did not prevent the mayor from disclosing a pair of free passes to movies at the Senator Theatre she received in 2004. Those tickets, she reported, were rarely used.

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