Guest Editorial: POLITICS: Selective prosecution based on race and party cast doubts on state prosecutor
Delegate rejects plea offer and opts to argue motion for a new trial in campaign finance theft case(s)
By Hassan Giordano, GCOMM Media
(BALTIMORE - September 25, 2012) - Last Wednesday, Prince George’s County Delegate Tiffany Alston turned down a plea deal offered to her by the state prosecutor’s office in two cases in which Alston - who had previously agreed on the deal after being found guilty on charges stemming from theft and misuse of campaign funds - now says she believes deserves a retrial. Alston and her attorneys, Raouf M. Abdullah and J. Wyndal Gordon, chose to reject a previously agreed upon plea agreement that would have sentenced the freshman legislator to three years of supervised probation - and forced her to resign her post in the Maryland General Assembly.
Alston maintains her innocence in both cases, in which prosecutors allege she misused campaign funds to pay for wedding dresses and expenses totaling over $3,500, withdrew monies totaling over $1,800 for personal expenses including paying an employee of her private law firm and fraudulently issuing state General Assembly funds to pay a law firm employee for work as her legislative aide – though the employee reportedly never stepped foot in Annapolis? However, while the sentencing and outcome of each trial linger for Alston - and her constituents who will ultimately be robbed of a progressively passionate and hard working civil servant if she is convicted of these charges and forced to resign - rumors of selective prosecution by the Maryland State Prosecutor’s Office have thrown speculation into the real motivation behind Alston’s prosecution; and raises questions as to past criminal convictions obtained by this office.
"I've been waiting 9-years in the Maryland legislature for someone like Tiffany [Alston] to come along and assist me in fighting for the rights of our people; you know, the one's that put us here to represent their interests? She is a very spirited and intelligent black woman who knows the issues, fights for the rights of her constituency - even when its not always popular - and stands against political injustices in Annapolis; and the people of Maryland, and her district in particular, will be the ones that lose if she is forced to resign from her seat in the legislature!" Delegate Jill P. Carter (D-41)
The Office of the State Prosecutor was established in 1976 by a Constitutional amendment that allows for this ‘independently’ appointed prosecutor to investigate criminal offenses perpetrated against the public trust that include violations of state election law, public ethics laws, bribery involving public officials and/or employees, misconduct in office by public officials or employees and any extortion, perjury or obstruction of justice related to any of the aforementioned. Currently run by State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt, who took over for Robert Rohrbaugh in 2010; allegations of racial and partisan based criminal convictions have surfaced both from outside observers and even within the department itself.
Acting off of a tip from a confidential source within the state prosecutor’s office, who says that they have witnessed at least 90% of the cases facing criminal prosecution come from a decision based on race, party and/or public scrutiny and media attention; I personally began researching prosecutorial criminal cases versus those who are were merely given civil citations and fines and/or dismissed – and the results were shocking. Having the power of authorizing prosecution or simply trying to work with the defendants involved in the case, you would think that the prosecutor would err on the side of caution, and try to give individuals – many of whom are treasurers for these campaign accounts that have very little, if any, knowledge or background in finance – a break in coming into compliance with the law.
However, an office whose consistent motto has been: ‘One that takes its mission of restoring the public’s confidence seriously through the consistent and fair enforcement of the corruption, bribery and election laws without regard to party affiliation’; seems to have taken on the political spin of the politicians they have been tasked with convicting? Take for instance the case with Alston, who believed it to be lawful to spend the money she infused into her own campaign in the first place; yet, was undoubtedly targeted based on her public support of causes that have no interest to the democratic establishment in Annapolis? And while she certainly has to answer for her alleged violations of campaign finance laws, why must she be prosecuted for such crimes when people like Aaron Meisner of the 'Stop Slots' campaign – who was targeted for misusing $8,617 of the campaign of money for personal use – was merely given a simple ‘civil citation’?
Reviewing this case, the state prosecutor’s office found that Meisner opened up an issue-based campaign account to thwart the ballot authorization of slots in 2008, on August 27th. Opening up two bank accounts with both Wells Fargo (formerly Wachovia) and Citibank for the use of Stop Slots funds, as he served as its Chairman and Nancy Greenbaum served as the Treasurer; he later withdrew $7,800 in a span of a week before Election Day 2008, for what he says was payments to polls and field workers. Unable to initially produce any 1099 tax return forms for the ‘said’ employees, he later presented a spreadsheet produced by Shawna Walcott that showed that 34-workers were paid $5,650 for work performed – leaving a delinquent balance of $2,150.
Then, on January 15, 2009, two months after the election in which the slots issue had passed and was no longer relevant, Meisner wrote out a check to himself in the amount of $13,567.56 without the knowledge or consent of the campaign treasurer. He told prosecutors that the money was for reimbursements he had incurred on behalf of the campaign, yet could show no receipts to validate such a claim. Later producing $7,100 in receipts, Meisner was held accountable for the delinquent balance of $6,467 in which the prosecutor totaled both amounts and on April 17, 2012 issued a sworn affidavit and civil citation that authorizes Meisner to pay a $5,000 fine for the $8,617 he apparently misused – yet was not criminally prosecuted?
And stories like these go on and on, for when you look at the obvious heavy hitter names that these prosecutors went after, the likes of: former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon, Ron Lipscomb, Tiffany Alston, Darrell Miller, Julius Henson, Helen Holton, John Leopold, Paul Schurick; all are either African American Democrats or Republicans. Yet, when you compare people like bread kingpin John Paterakis fine and slap on the wrist of no jail time, or even community service based on his age (80); you wonder why elder African Americans such as Baltimore County Councilman Ken Oliver or former Baltimore City State Delegate Clarence ‘Tiger’ Davis – both convicted of minor campaign violations – weren’t afforded the same leniency? Both received probation before judgment while Davis was also forced out of the legislator and Oliver - who is 67-years old - also received 50-hours community service? Was he not too old?
When you hear stories such as even mine, who as a Chairman of a campaign merely in an advisory role in 2007, for Israel Cason who was contemplating a run for City Council; was criminally charged for late fees regarding a campaign whose account was closed in 2007, yet based on the treasurer not checking a little box in the upper right hand corner, were made to pay hundreds of dollars in late fees through 2011 based on an error by the state board of elections or face possible jail time? Yet, then you look at someone like Edward St. John, owner of St. John Properties Inc., who was charged with (11) counts of making campaign contributions in excess of the statutory limitations through third parties who were then reimbursed for those contributions, only to be given a ‘civil citation’ and fined $55,000 and forced to contribute another $55k to a suspiciously frequent program of the state prosecutor’s defendants known as the ‘College Bound’ program.
Or even James Robinson, the sole stockholder of (20) corporations who was ‘fined’ (24) times for contributing over $125,000 to various campaigns over a 17-day period in October 2006 to Friends of Martin O’Malley ($34,000), Friends of Anthony Brown ($58,000) and Friends of Peter Franchot ($33,000) - though under Maryland Law, contributions by two or more corporations owned by the same stakeholders are considered as being made by one contributor, and Mr. Robinson clearly violated said law. He was not criminally pursued, yet rather given a proverbial slap-on-the-wrist – and based on the high ranking democratic officials he gave considerable finances too, I doubt many Marylanders would be shocked by the state prosecutor’s lack of criminal proceedings.
“In every instance (the previously civil citation cases mentioned), this Office’s investigations determined that criminal prosecution was not warranted since there was insufficient evidence to conclude that any of the persons intentionally violated the law,” state prosecutor’s statement. Is that so? So how can you come to that conclusion in these clear cases of criminal violations, yet not come to the same conclusion when people like Delegate Alston say she felt the reimbursement of funds she primarily donated to her own campaign was not a clear violation? Did she really violate the public trust, or just the trust of the democratic establishment who couldn’t count on her undying support of policies that violated her constituencies’ trust?
Now, while there is no excuse for criminal acts and clear violations of the law, one must question the intent and insight into the prosecutorial discretion used by Maryland’s State Prosecutor - who is appointed by the Governor. Especially with cases and individuals who are clearly not trying to violate the public trust or campaign finance laws but are in most cases assisting a friend in need?
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