www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/crime/blog/bs-md-ci-dixon-probation-violation-20121107,0,5778459.story

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Probation violation threatens Dixon's plea deal

Mayor could face the loss of city pension and prison time if probation violation ends in conviction

By Ian Duncan and Luke Broadwater, The Baltimore Sun

9:33 PM EST, November 7, 2012

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Former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon could face the loss of her city pension — and possibly prison time — after being charged with a probation violation connected to a plea deal she struck on perjury and theft allegations.

Dixon was $13,640 behind on payments toward a $45,000 charitable donation she agreed to make as part of the deal, according to records maintained by the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

The new legal trouble threatens to derail what some had speculated was a nascent political comeback by the former mayor. She is barred from seeking office until her probation ends, but has spoken up on hot-button city issues within the past year, including the planned construction of a new youth jail.

"Nobody knows my situation," Dixon said Wednesday. "I'm trying to do the best that I can do. This is a setback. I'm not enjoying it."

She declined to discuss her personal finances in detail but said she is working to make the payments to STAR and Moveable Feast, both HIV/AIDS support organizations she nominated to receive the funds.

Dixon was the highest-profile casualty of an almost three-year investigation by the office of the Maryland state prosecutor into links between city elected officials and developers.

A jury found Dixon guilty of embezzling $500 worth of gift cards intended for needy families. She subsequently entered an Alford plea, not admitting guilt but acknowledging that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict her, on separate charges that she failed to disclose lavish gifts from her developer boyfriend.

She resigned and also agreed to serve 500 hours of community service as part of her probation. Dixon said she completed that requirement at Our Daily Bread and a girls' mentoring program.

In recent weeks, Dixon has been promoting a scheduled City Hall rally Thursday against the construction of a youth jail, featuring civil rights leader Jesse Jackson. She said Wednesday that she is reconsidering whether to attend.

"If this in any way overshadows it, I don't know if I need to be there," she said. "This issue is extremely important for the lives of so many young people in the city."

After a Board of Estimates meeting Wednesday, current Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who replaced Dixon, said the charge was a reminder of a "very dark time in Baltimore's history."

"The fact that we're talking about it now with a potential violation of probation, it just pulls the scab off again of a city that's trying to get over that history and move forward to bring trust back into government," she said. "My hope is that she'll be able to resolve whatever issues she has for herself, for her family and for the city."

The technicalities of Dixon's case are complicated, but she sidestepped convictions, receiving instead probation before judgment.

If the probation is completed successfully, Dixon's record could be wiped clean, but a judge may revoke her probation as a result of the violation, potentially exposing her to a conviction.

Dixon is scheduled to go to court Dec. 7 to explain why her probation should not be revoked, according to her summons. Dixon said she hopes the new charge does not result in a conviction.

"I hope and pray that it doesn't," she said.

Jim Cabezas, chief investigator for the state prosecutor's office, said his agency pursues probation violations "aggressively."

He declined to comment on the specifics of Dixon's case but pointed to another case involving failure to pay restitution that recently resulted in prison time for the violator.

Under the Baltimore City code, elected officials convicted of crimes related to their duties are stripped of their pensions.

Dixon avoided that, but City Solicitor George Nilson, said that were a judge to revoke the probation before judgment finding, her $83,000-a-year city pension would be at risk.

"She should be highly motivated to fix this issue," said Nilson, who handles the city's legal affairs. "Her pension is obviously important to her."

Dixon was told to make monthly contributions, according to court records, but her payments have been erratic. She paid nothing for the first seven months she was on probation, then $5,000 in September 2010, and a further $10,000 that December. Another lapse followed, ending with three payments of $1,000 between October 2011 and January 2012.

The mayor's lingering problems started in 2006 when The Baltimore Sun reported that the city paid Dixon's former campaign chairman hundreds of thousands of dollars for work he did without a contract.

Then-State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh launched an investigation that led to the 2009 trial and 2010 plea. In a scathing pre-sentencing memo he described Dixon's approach to the case as "unrepentant" and "laughable." Circuit Judge Dennis M. Sweeney called the evidence against Dixon "overwhelming."

iduncan@baltsun.com

luke.broadwater@baltsun.com