Dixon's life exposed: for love and money

November 17, 2009|By Jean Marbella Jean.MARBELLA @baltsun.com

Remember when you were a kid, you and your friends spent hours wondering if it was worse to die in a fire or by drowning, or whether you'd rather be shot or stabbed?

Now that I'm grown up, I ponder a different existentialist dilemma: Would I rather have my love life or my financial one on public display in a courtroom?

In other words, is it more embarrassing for a boyfriend to testify about your nightly telephone conversations, or for someone to document how you bought a $1,779.75 designer suit at Nordstrom - and paid cash?

Or that you also bought a $35 purse at Target and returned it a week later?

And that you gave a staff member who makes $90,000 a year a $15 gift card for Christmas?

You can see how I'm leaning on this whole love-money-humiliation continuum.

As Mayor Sheila Dixon's theft trial entered its second week, it became apparent she wouldn't get to choose between death by romantic or financial secrets. It was going to be all of the above, which I guess is inevitable given that she is charged with stealing gift cards for the city's poor that were donated by developers, including one who is a former beau.

While that developer, Ronald Lipscomb, has yet to testify, Monday brought another developer-slash-gift-card-giver to the stand. Patrick Turner, he of the glitzy $150 million Silo Point condominiums, testified that he bought $1,000 worth of Target and Best Buy cards at Dixon's behest. Turner evaded the prosecution's attempts to get him to say the cards he donated to Dixon were for needy children, instead repeating that he believed they were for unspecified Baltimore children.

At least one less-than-needy child ended up benefiting from one of the cards that definitely were designated for the needy: Mary Pat Fannon, a lobbyist for the city, testified that Dixon gave her a $15 Toys "R" Us card at a Christmas party, one that was purchased by the Housing Department for the "Holly Trolley" tour that takes holiday gifts to low-income residents.

Fannon said she makes about $90,000 a year and, after protesting that a prosecutor's question was too personal, conceded that she and her husband have a combined annual income in excess of $500,000.

Fannon said she didn't know the cards were for the needy. In any event, she bought "something nice" for her 2-year-old daughter as Dixon had encouraged her to do, and wrote her a thank-you note that was entered as an exhibit.

Meanwhile, Dixon neither verbally nor in writing thanked Turner for his contribution of gift cards, even though she had ample opportunity given that she was one of 20 or 25 guests who a couple of months later attended a surprise birthday party for his wife at the pricey Charleston restaurant.

Defense attorneys highlighted this apparent lapse of manners on Dixon's part, since it fuels their argument that Dixon didn't know Turner's cards were from him - he had them left at her office in a plain envelope with no note - and thought they were a personal gift from Lipscomb.

But perhaps Turner just assumed Dixon was as casual about monetary transactions as he is: Despite his multi-million-dollar developments, Turner testified that he only carries a personal credit card, and simply scribbles on the bills he receives which expenses are business write-offs. He tallied at least one month's business expenses on a giveaway pad of paper from a title company.

After his 2005 donation of gift cards, Turner said Dixon sought a second contribution the following year. He was vacationing in the Cayman Islands, though, and called a sometime business partner back home, Glenn Charlow, and asked him to get some gift cards for Dixon on his behalf.

"Did you pay him back?" prosecutor Shelly Glenn asked.

"No, actually," Turner said with a laugh.

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