Leopold indictment further clouds Arundel political scene

County Council continues to struggle over choosing new member

March 04, 2012|By Nicole Fuller, The Baltimore Sun

Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold was smiling and upbeat Saturday after eating at a diner in his hometown, part of a county he has led for more than five years and where he now faces the political and legal fight of his career.

Just one day before, Leopold was indicted on corruption charges alleging he used his taxpayer-funded security detail to arrange sexual liaisons and to defeat political adversaries. But he didn't want to discuss the allegations on his way out of the Double T Diner in Pasadena. He said he'll save that for court.

"There are lots of things I would like to talk to you about, but I can't," said Leopold, a second-term Republican, as he made his way to his county-issued black Chevrolet Impala, which he drove himself. "The county's going to function just as it always has."

His reticence certainly won't stop others from talking. The bombshell allegations have dominated headlines and news broadcasts — as well as Twitter and other online chats, not to mention dinner and diner table conversations — the latest storm in a county already struggling with political instability.

The County Council has been in an ugly standoff for weeks, unable to select a replacement for Councilman Daryl D. Jones, who was booted from the council when he reported to prison on a tax violation. Deliberations over who should take his seat have been marked by shouting and allegations of racial insensitivity — one councilman used an ethnic slur at a recent public meeting.

It's all too much for some in the county, which boasts several Baltimore suburbs, more than 500 miles of shoreline and the seat of Maryland government. For Bea Colhouer, a retired pharmacy technician from Crownsville, the allegations against Leopold tipped the scale.

"Our politicians in Anne Arundel County have really been disappointing," said Colhouer, after eating lunch Saturday at the same Pasadena diner. "I can see why some people don't even bother paying attention. Leopold — he's a jerk. He should have known better. He needs to go."

The county executive was indicted by a grand jury and charged Friday with four counts of misconduct in office and one count of fraudulent misappropriation. According to an indictment from the office of Maryland State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt, Leopold directed the officers assigned to his executive protection unit to perform duties including emptying his urinary catheter as he recovered from back surgery.

O. James Lighthizer, a Democrat who served as county executive in Anne Arundel from 1982 to 1990, said Leopold's indictment, coupled with the council's recent antics, presents a "very unfortunate" set of circumstances for the county government to grapple with.

"There's certainly a lot of turmoil," said Lighthizer. "The county government can run on autopilot for a long time — it's not the end of the world. But it all, unfortunately, doesn't make anybody in the county government look good."

Some in the community were sticking with their county executive. George Stratakos, the assistant manager of the diner, offered Leopold a free meal, calling him a "loyal customer." Leopold refused and paid his $16.38 check for tilapia and eggs over easy with two crisp $10 bills.

Janet Stroup, a Pasadena homemaker, said as she left the diner she thought the indictment went too far. "Why pick on him?" asked Stroup. "Maybe he should be fined or something. He gets things done. Men are men and men are dogs. I'm not surprised."

Stroup, who said she has voted for Leopold, added, "I think it's politically motived. In a Democratic state — absolutely."

Leopold was first elected county executive in 2006, and before that served for two decades in the House of Delegates. He was previously elected to the Hawaii Legislature and ran for governor unsuccessfully there in 1978.

According to the indictment, Leopold directed the officers assigned to his executive protection unit to transport him to destroy campaign signs of a political opponent and to perform personal chores. He is accused of using an officer on his detail to keep his live-in girlfriend from meeting a county employee with whom he was having an "intimate relationship." That task cost the county more than $10,000 in police overtime, the indictment says.

Leopold's attorney, Bruce L. Marcus, has seized on the notion that politics are at play. He declined to comment Saturday, but said Friday that people should "question the reasons and motivation" for releasing some of the detail's of Leopold's alleged behavior.

Leopold has vowed to fight the charges and said he will not step down from office.

O'Brien Atkinson, president of the county's Fraternal Order of Police, said the indictment has "cast a dark cloud over this department."

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