NY Times: Baltimore Mayor Indicted in Theft and Perjury Case
BALTIMORE — Mayor Sheila Dixon of Baltimore was indicted Friday, accused of stealing gift cards donated to the city for needy families and failing to report trips, fur coats and other luxuries paid for by a local developer who was her former boyfriend.
The indictment, which follows a nearly three-year state investigation, charges that from 2003, when she was City Council president, until shortly after she became the first woman to be elected mayor of Baltimore, in 2007, Ms. Dixon, a Democrat, committed perjury, theft, fraudulent misappropriation and misconduct in office.
She is charged with using at least $2,000 in donated gift cards for Target and Best Buy to buy a digital camcorder, a PlayStation 2, an Xbox 360 and other electronic devices for her personal use and failing to disclose her trips to New York, Chicago and other places with a prominent developer, Ronald H. Lipscomb.
City ethics laws require elected officials to disclose gifts from people doing business with the city. Mr. Lipscomb’s company, Doracon, a minority subcontractor, often works on developments that receive city tax breaks.
After state prosecutors raided the mayor’s home last summer, carting away boxes and other items, Ms. Dixon publicly acknowledged having had a “personal relationship” with Mr. Lipscomb in 2003 and 2004 after both had separated from their spouses. The mayor said the relationship had not influenced her “decisions related to matters of city government.”
Mr. Lipscomb and a City Council member, Helen Holton, were indicted this week on bribery charges, but their indictment did not mention Ms. Dixon.
After Ms. Dixon’s indictment was announced on his official Web site, Maryland’s state prosecutor, Robert A. Rohrbaugh, said in a statement, “The citizens of Baltimore have every right to expect their public officials will be open and honest and will not use the office for personal motives, gain or greed.”
Ms. Dixon and her chief lawyer, Arnold M. Weiner, denied the charges at a news conference on Friday afternoon.
“I am being unfairly accused,” Ms. Dixon said. “Time will prove that I have done nothing wrong, and I am confident that I will be found innocent of these charges.”
Mr. Weiner said that Mr. Rohrbaugh was obsessed with indicting the mayor and that his investigation was politically motivated. Mr. Rohrbaugh was appointed in 2004 by the governor at the time, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican. Ms. Dixon is a close ally of Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, who was Baltimore’s mayor before he defeated Mr. Ehrlich in November 2006.
“Sheila Dixon has been the state prosecutor’s singular personal obsession,” Mr. Weiner said. “There wasn’t a bed sheet he failed to look under.”
Before the state prosecutor began his investigation in 2006, Ms. Dixon and the entire City Council were the subject of a federal public corruption inquiry by United States Attorney Thomas DiBiagio, a Republican appointee who left office after memorandums publicly surfaced that seemed to indicate political bias against the Council, whose members were all Democrats. Mr. DiBiagio’s successor dropped the investigation.
Mr. Weiner said Friday that the state charges against Ms. Dixon were nearly identical to accusations that federal prosecutors had deemed not worthy of pursuing.
The charges claim that Mr. Lipscomb paid for a $2,000 gift certificate that the mayor used to buy a Persian lamb coat and a burnt umber mink coat. The indictment also states that he may have spent nearly $13,000 on items, travel and personal services for Ms. Dixon at Saks Fifth Avenue, Giorgio, Coach and St. John Boutique, all in Chicago; at the Ritz-Carlton in Avon, Colo., and the Trump International hotel in New York .
The two traveled together to New York in February 2004, hours after Ms. Dixon, then council president, had voted to approve a $13.6 million tax break for a Lipscomb project, according to court records. Mr. Lipscomb could not be reached Friday for comment.
Mr. Weiner said Ms. Dixon did not have to report gifts from Mr. Lipscomb because his company was not on the official lists of those that do business with the city. Mr. Weiner said city law allowed Ms. Dixon to continue her work as mayor, with an annual salary of $151,700. Many residents attribute last year’s sharp decrease in homicides in the city to Ms. Dixon’s leadership, particularly her decision to hire a local police commissioner.
“I will continue to put all of my energies into running the City of Baltimore during these perilous economic times,” Ms. Dixon said. “And with God’s grace, I am confident that the city, my family and I will weather this storm.”