Thomas L. Bromwell

Thomas L. Bromwell (Sun photo by Lloyd Fox / January 22, 2003)

A federal grand jury accused a Democratic former state senator from Baltimore County yesterday of accepting bribes from a local construction company president vying for millions of dollars worth of state contracts.

The long-expected indictment against Thomas L. Bromwell, his wife, Mary Pat, and former Poole and Kent Co. President W. David Stoffregen outlines a complex scheme of payoffs and contract fraud that abused a system intended to help companies run by women or minorities.

Over five years, the Bromwells were paid almost $300,000 by Stoffregen in the form of free home construction work and a salary to Mary Pat Bromwell for a no-show job at a "front" company posing as a female-owned subcontractor, according to the indictment. It was really operated by Poole and Kent, prosecutors charge.

In return, according to court papers, Poole and Kent received the benefit of Bromwell's influence. He intervened on the company's behalf in contract negotiations for work at a state juvenile detention center and the University of Maryland Medical System, court papers say.

The 80-page indictment comes more than two years after federal investigators started examining the close relationship between Bromwell, and Poole and Kent, a prominent Baltimore-based mechanical contractor known for its work on such projects as the Ravens football stadium.

Bromwell, 56, served in the General Assembly as a delegate and then state senator for 23 years, and was chairman of the powerful Finance Committee. He leads the Maryland Injured Workers Insurance Fund, a quasi-public agency responsible for workers' compensation claims.

No date has been set for the defendants' first appearance in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

The 30-count indictment charges the Bromwells and Stoffregen with conspiring to violate the Racketeer Influenced Criminal Organizations Act, commonly known as RICO, mail fraud and extortion.

In addition, Thomas Bromwell is charged with wire fraud, making a false statement to FBI agents and filing false tax returns. Stoffregen is charged with wire fraud and obstruction of justice. He is accused of witness tampering.

"The charges in this indictment allege a serious abuse of public office for private financial gain. Citizens and business people deserve to know that government officials in Maryland will be held accountable if they sell their offices," Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said in a prepared statement released late yesterday.

An attorney for Stoffregen, Barry Levine, did not return a phone call yesterday seeking comment. Poole and Kent officials said they forced Stoffregen out of the company in March.

The Bromwells released a statement through their lawyers, proclaiming their innocence and intention to fight the charges lodged against them.

"This is a sad day for Tommy Bromwell, his family and his many, many supporters who have expressed their love and support of for him over the years as a result of his many good deeds and legislative accomplishments for the citizens of the State of Maryland," the statement said.

But it was the partisan charge in the Bromwells' statement - that the indictment stemmed from a "Republican controlled Department of Justice determined to secure an indictment against them, regardless of its merits" - that incensed Rosenstein yesterday.

"This case would have been pursued the same way regardless of anyone's political affiliation," Rosenstein said in an interview.

Poole and Kent officials released a statement last night saying the mechanical contractor has long cooperated with federal authorities, adding, "The quality of our work has never been an issue in the investigation."

Reaction in Annapolis, where Bromwell once wielded wide-ranging power, was somber.

"The governor takes these allegations very seriously," said Henry Fawell, a spokesman for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. "He has asked his staff to carefully review the indictment. He wishes the Bromwell family the best during this difficult time."

Ehrlich, a political ally of Bromwell's, supported the senator's attempt to overthrow Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller in 2000. And last year Bromwell returned to the State House to lobby on behalf of Ehrlich's medical malpractice bill.