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Prosecutor uses memorabilia to help witnesses, victims relax

College SportsTodd HeapFBINorman Rockwell

When he and his staff moved back into their offices in the Carroll Building last year after a renovation, Howard County State's Attorney Dario Broccolino noticed how bare the walls were and how lifeless the place seemed.

It had been a while since the office was filled with the paintings of one of his predecessors, Bill Hymes, whose Norman Rockwell knockoffs had been sold.

"It all looked so barren," Broccolino said recently.

Not anymore. Autographed memorabilia that once belonged to legendary athletes, actors and musicians now fill the hallways, giving the county's prosecutors a set of conversation pieces that help "break the ice" with crime victims and witnesses.

"We had a woman who was the victim of a stalker, and she seemed to have a connection to some of the pictures because her brother was a collector," Broccolino recalled. "It helped put her at ease."

The additions came about almost by accident.

One night when Broccolino was playing in a trivia league at a local restaurant, he noticed that a longtime friend, Matthew Celozzi II, knew many of the answers to questions about sports and had lots of stories to tell.

"He would say, 'Oh, I have that guy's autograph,'" Broccolino recalled.

It turned out that Celozzi, a Baltimore psychologist, has one of the most extensive, and impressive, collections of memorabilia that Broccolino had ever seen.

Slowly, the second-floor office began to resemble a sports bar, including a boxing glove autographed by Joe Frazier; checks signed by Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio; a drumhead signed by the Four Tops; and horse racing photos signed by the jockeys aboard Triple Crown winners.

Given the value of many of the artifacts, Broccolino had to give Celozzi assurances.

"I told him how secure the place was," said Broccolino, who has known Celozzi since they were college freshmen in Baltimore 50 years ago.

Among the most recent arrivals was a comb used by President John F. Kennedy and a letter of authenticity from his personal secretary, Evelyn Lincoln. There's a signed painting of Sir Edmund Hillary, the first to climb Mount Everest.

Harriett Silver, who has worked as a receptionist there for 18 years, looked with some sadness at the autographed picture of Todd Heap that she selected to hang near her desk.

"I'm afraid about the move," she said about her favorite ex-Raven, days after he was released and then signed with the Arizona Cardinals.

Broccolino can name a handful of cases in which someone he or one of his staff members was about to interview seemed to relax when the conversation turned to Meat Loaf, Elvis or one of the myriad sports stars whose autographed pictures hang on the walls.

"My purpose originally was to make the place a little more lively," Broccolino said. "But I saw how people would open a little more after talking about the pictures or autographs. Usually when people come in here, it's not the result of a happy event. You can start off a conversation talking about Todd Heap or Taylor Swift."

Or Cal Ripken Jr., a Broccolino favorite whose autographed picture from his history-making 2,131st straight game is in Broccolino's office. Or all the Yankees memorabilia, including a signed picture of Don Larsen as he delivered the final pitch of his perfect game in the 1956 World Series.

"I hate all the Yankee stuff," said Assistant State's Attorney Jim Dietrich, "but I love that picture because of all the old [advertising] signs."

Doug Nelsen, another of Broccolino's assistants, likes the picture from the "Miracle on Ice" victory by the U.S. hockey team over the Soviet squad in the 1980 Winter Olympics.

Les Gross, a former Prince George's County police officer turned prosecutor, prefers the autographed picture of one of his heroes, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.

Not all of Broccolino's assistants pay close attention. Susan Weinstein said she has been too busy to take notice of the new arrivals — or even the old standbys.

The memorabilia keeps coming. Celozzi doesn't like to keep the stuff in his house in Baltimore County, so why not keep it in a place as heavily secured as the office of the state's attorney? Some of Celozzi's collection is tied to the legal system, including a baseball signed by Johnnie Cochran and Kato Kaelin, who figured prominently in O.J. Simpson's murder trial.

"Now all I need is O.J.," Celozzi said.

As he looked around his office recently, Broccolino joked with his friend. It was Broccolino's 67th birthday.

"We can set the record straight: If you die and you haven't picked any of this up, it becomes mine," Broccolino said with a smile.

"I'm not going anywhere yet," Celozzi said.

don.markus@baltsun.com

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