Dixon convicted of embezzlement

Jury acquits mayor of felony theft charge, but guilty finding could force her from office

'the city will still continue to move forward'

prosecutor calls it 'sad day' for Baltimore

December 01, 2009|By Julie Bykowicz and Annie Linskey | Baltimore Sun reporters

Jurors in the theft trial of Sheila Dixon convicted the Baltimore mayor Tuesday on a single charge of taking gift cards intended for the city's poor.

Although Dixon was acquitted of a felony theft charge, her misdemeanor conviction could force her from office.

Jurors deliberated more than six days after hearing the Democrat was accused of using or keeping $630 worth of gift cards. She allegedly solicited most of the cards from a wealthy developer and then bought electronics at Best Buy, clothes at Old Navy and other items at Target.

The jury convicted her on one count of fraudulent misappropriation by a fiduciary and acquitted her on two counts of felony theft and one count of misconduct in office. Jurors failed to reach a verdict on another count of fraudulent misappropriation by a fiduciary. The conviction carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, but prosecutors have not decided whether they will seek jail time.

"The city will still continue to move forward," Dixon said outside the courthouse after the verdict. "This city will continue to run. ... We won't miss a step."

Some of her supporters applauded as she left the courthouse.

Her office released a statement from the mayor later in the day that said: "Today, I thank God for the strength He has given me. I want to thank my family for their undying support, and all of my staff, supporters, and friends for the countless prayers and encouraging words. Thank you for standing by me. The jury's verdict today does not impact my responsibility to continue serving and I remain focused on keeping Baltimore on course in these trying economic times.

"I want the people of this great city to know that my administration is fortunate to have a talented and dedicated team of professionals running city agencies and departments. Like me, my team remains focused on the everyday business of this city. I am blessed with opportunity to serve the people of Baltimore."

Earlier Tuesday, jurors sent a note to Judge Dennis M. Sweeney asking whether the panel needed to reach a unanimous decision on all five counts against the mayor. The note, written by juror No. 11 and signed by the forewoman, had the word "all" underlined.

Sweeney brought the jurors into the courtroom and explained to them that they could return a partial verdict. He did not take questions from the jurors in the courtroom, but said that they could send another note with any additional questions.

Several jurors nodded as Sweeney explained that the court can accept a partial verdict.

Because prosecutors used different legal theories in charging Dixon, she could have been convicted of a maximum of three counts. Dixon faced conviction on the following counts:

• Count One

The jury found Dixon not guilty of the most serious crime, felony theft. The jury decided that Dixon did not knowingly steal about $630 in Target and Best Buy gift cards purchased in December 2005 by developer Patrick Turner, who testified they were intended for "the children of Baltimore." Dixon was City Council president at the time.

or

• Count Four

The jury convicted Dixon of embezzlement, a misdemeanor, for violating her fiduciary duties to the city and citizens of Baltimore by using the Target and Best Buy gift cards purchased in December 2005 by Turner and worth about $630.

• Count Three

Dixon was not convicted of theft for taking six Toys "R" Us gift cards purchased with taxpayer money in 2007 for a city housing department charity event called the Holly Trolley tour. Dixon gave one of the cards to a wealthy aide, and the others were found in a Victoria's Secret shopping bag in Dixon's home when it was raided last year.

or

• Count Six

The jury was hung on the count of embezzlement. Dixon was accused of violating her fiduciary duties to the city and citizens of Baltimore by taking the six Toys "R" Us gift cards intended for the city housing department's 2007 Holly Trolley tour. Juror No. 3 said the jury was split, 9-3, in favor of convicting the mayor on this charge.

• Count Seven

Dixon was found not guilty of misconduct in office for stealing the Holly Trolley cards.

The five theft-related counts stemmed from a nearly four-year investigation into City Hall corruption that has centered on relationships between public officials and developers who have relied on tax breaks for projects.

Two of the original seven counts -- felony theft of gift cards worth more than $500 and fraudulent misappropriation of the gift cards donated by Ronald H. Lipscomb and Doracon, owned by Lipscomb -- were tossed out when the state rested its case without calling the developer, who said he had given Dixon gift cards for charity, as a witness.

After the verdict was read, State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh said that the jury made a courageous decision.

"It's a sad day for Baltimore," he said. " ... The message is that there's nobody above the law."

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