Annie Linskey and Julie Bykowicz, Baltimore Sun, January 9, 2009
Baltimore Mayor Sheila A. Dixon was charged today with 12 counts of felony theft, perjury, fraud and misconduct in office, becoming the city’s first sitting mayor to be criminally indicted.
The case stems in part from at least $15,348 in gifts Dixon allegedly received from her former boyfriend, prominent city developer Ronald H. Lipscomb, while she was City Council president. She also is accused of using as much as $3,400 in gift cards, some donated to her office for distribution to “needy families,” to purchase Best Buy electronics and other items for herself and her staff.
Lipscomb was not indicted in the Dixon case, but he and City Councilwoman Helen L. Holton were charged this week in a separate $12,500 bribery scheme. Both cases grew out of a nearly three-year probe by the state prosecutor into City Hall corruption.
The investigation has hung over Dixon, a Democrat, even as she became the city’s first female mayor and oversaw a significant decrease in the city’s homicide rate, reducing killings to a 20-year low. Viewed as an energetic and charismatic leader, she has earned praise from residents for implementing an easy-to-use recycling program and displaying a willingness to tackle the city’s systemic racial and economic disparities.
If convicted on all charges, the 55-year-old former teacher and mother of two could be sentenced to 85 years in prison. The most serious charges, two counts of felony theft, each carry a possible 15-year prison term.
The City Hall corruption probe dates to the fall of 2003, when federal authorities subpoenaed five years’ worth of financial records from all City Council members. When that inquiry ended 18 months later with no charges filed, Weiner said, Rohrbaugh began an investigation of his own.
That state investigation eventually spanned as many as nine Baltimore grand juries. Weiner called it the longest and most expensive public corruption investigation he had ever seen.
In the end, a Baltimore Circuit Court grand jury that expired today returned a 31-page indictment of the mayor.
One theft charge involves misconduct in December 2007, when Dixon was mayor. According to the indictment, a Baltimore housing employee purchased Toys R Us gift cards to be distributed to underprivileged children during a holiday event. Dixon allegedly gave one of those gift cards to a member of her staff, and five others were discovered at her West Baltimore house when investigators raided it in June.
Among other accusations: In 2004, 2005 and 2006, Dixon solicited gift cards–to Target, Best Buy, Old Navy and Circuit City–from two developers. She then used some of the cards to purchase a PlayStation2 controller, a PlayStation Portable, a Samsung digital camcorder and other items she either kept or gave to staff members as Christmas presents, the indictment said.
Neither developer is named, and the state prosecutor refers to them as Developer A and Developer B. Weiner identified Developer A as Lipscomb. Another part of the indictment covers lavish presents from Lipscomb, whom Dixon has said she dated briefly in late 2003 and early 2004. Those gifts include a $2,000 furrier certificate that she used to buy a Persian lamb coat and a “burnt umber mink coat”; $3,200 for a New York City trip that included a stay at the Trump International Hotel; a $1,518 plane ticket from Baltimore to Chicago; and thousands of dollars in cash to pay credit card bills amassed during a swanky Chicago shopping spree.
The indictment also alleges that Lipscomb passed Dixon thousands of dollars of cash–some of which she handed off to a staff member in a wad of 40 $100 bills while being driven around the city. The staff member, who is not named in the indictment, deposited the cash into his personal checking account and paid part of Dixon’s American Express bill, the indictment says.
Baltimore’s ethics laws, which Dixon helped to write, ban city employees from soliciting or accepting gifts from those who do business with the city.
Dixon came under intensified scrutiny after a Sun article in early 2006 revealed that she, as City Council president, used an investigative hearing to pressure an official from Comcast to give more work to several minority-owned firms, including a company that employed her sister.
Dixon also voted three times on awarding contracts to the company, Utech, worth about $1 million.
The Sun also reported in 2006 that Dixon’s campaign chairman, Dale G. Clark, received $600,000 over six years for developing a computer system for the City Council.
For five of those years, Clark worked without a contract and was instructed by Dixon’s chief of staff to bill the city in increments below $5,000, an amount that does not require approval from the city’s Board of Estimates.