'Hale Storm' reveals prominent former banker's CIA ties, two failed marriages

Former prominent banker and Canton developer Ed Hale talks CIA ties, failed marriages in new biography.

Edwin F. Hale Sr. says that despite his high local profile as former CEO of First Mariner Bancorp and current owner of the Baltimore Blast indoor soccer team, "nobody really knows me."

So Hale, 67, decided to tell his life story in a book, titled "Hale Storm," that will be released Saturday by Apprentice House, a student-run book publisher at Loyola University Maryland. Hale said his primary motivation for having the biography written was that his three adult children, who saw him infrequently as he worked long hours during their youth, could know more about his life.

"My kids didn't like me very much, mainly because I was gone," Hale said. "They didn't know me and they didn't understand why I wasn't around for certain things, so I decided finally to do a book."

"Hale Storm," which is selling for $29.99 in print-on-demand and with an initial run of about 200 copies, spans Hale's upbringing in Sparrows Point and devotes chapters to how he built his shipping and trucking businesses, his development of Canton's waterfront from an industrial wasteland to a thriving destination for young professionals, and his divorce from his first wife, Sheila Thacker-Hale, which set a record for the largest divorce settlement — $6.4 million — in the state of Maryland.

It also reveals that he was an "agent" for the CIA, using his various companies to provide cover for operatives working overseas. Former Baltimore Sun sports columnist Kevin Cowherd spent 14 months interviewing Hale and others to write the book.

"A millionaire before he's 29, he pals around with members of Congress, governors and mayors, buys a pro soccer team, lives in an historic mansion that once housed the Duchess of Windsor and later in a 10,000-square-foot tower penthouse that looks like the Ritz Carlton, entertains Saudi princes on his luxury yacht and is the only man in history known to have turned down a dinner date with the achingly beautiful actress, Halle Berry," Cowherd wrote in the book's introduction.

The book does not gloss over the warts of Hale's life, including a strained relationship with his father, who Hale felt did not appreciate his success. It also details Hale's infidelities during his 22-year marriage to Thacker-Hale, whose attorneys were prepared during the 1988 divorce proceedings to call 18 women with whom he had affairs. Hale was furious when Judge James T. Smith Jr., later the Baltimore County executive and state transportation secretary, handed down the divorce settlement.

"Within moments of the verdict being read, the internal calculator in Hale's head began to whirr again. The numbers it spit out made him sick: he would owe Sheila $967.50 every day for the next 20 years," Cowherd wrote. "In a loud voice, Hale would announce to everyone in the office upon his arrival: 'Every morning when I get up, I know I have to make $967.50 to pay' " her.

Hale wanted to pay her attorney's $275,000 fee in nickels, dimes and quarters, but gave up on the effort when he was told it would take two armored cars to deliver and could break the elevators.

"There were things in there that you could tell if he could do it over again, he would do it differently," said U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, a close friend of Hale's for a decade. "I think it was a very honest account of a remarkable person who comes from a typical background here in Baltimore."

Hale said his CIA ties were the book's biggest revelation. In the book, Hale said he was recruited in 1991 by Buzzy Krongard, a top executive with the investment banking firm Alex. Brown & Sons, shortly after Hale took over leadership of the Bank of Baltimore in a rare proxy fight. Hale's shipping and trucking businesses provided cover for CIA operatives until the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when he said his services were no longer needed.

Hale said he and Cowherd visited CIA officials while composing the book, and they expressed misgivings about Hale revealing his ties but did not protest strongly. The CIA has not responded to requests for comment about the book.

Hale also dishes about his retirement from First Mariner, the parent company of the bank he launched in 1995 and turned into the largest still based here. During the housing crisis, the bank was forced to buy back bad mortgages it sold to Wall Street firms and was ordered by federal regulators to raise more capital. In 2011, Hale struck a deal with New York-based Priam Capital, which offered to buy a 25 percent stake in the company if other investors could be found.

Because Priam Capital did not offer him a defined leadership role in the company after the deal, Hale resigned. The Priam deal fell through in 2012 when First Mariner failed to attract other investment, though Priam played a key role in this year's buyout of 1st Mariner Bank by an investor group.

After some reports and banking experts said Hale was forced to step down as part of the deal, Hale said he wanted to set the record straight, saying he left the bank on his own accord.

Hale said he's keeping busy overseeing the Blast, which begins its season Saturday, and his real estate interests. He said Canton Crossing, which he helped develop, is doing better than anyone expected and that he still owns land in Canton and in eastern Baltimore County that he plans to develop.

He said he's also traveling for fun for the first time in his life and is enjoying spending time on his Talbot County farm and taking hunting and fishing trips.

"I still think I'm 34, and I really mean that," said Hale, who turns 68 next Saturday. "I want to keep doing things, so my brain doesn't rot and ferns don't come out of my ears or something."

The book also includes 58 of Hale's "Life Lessons," including "Don't be lazy. It's habit-forming," "Revenge is fun," and "Hire attitude over ability."

The growing ease of self-publishing and rise of e-books has boosted the popularity of biographies and autobiographies, said Jane Friedman, the former publisher of Writer's Digest and a professor of digital media and publishing at the University of Virginia.

"It's very common for people to write their life stories in some form," Friedman said. "You start to reflect on the life you've lived, and you want to leave something more permanent behind."

Hale said he's had a few book signings and that the printer is already considering another run. He said people have been surprised by his CIA connection and have told him they enjoyed learning more about his life.

"It sets the record straight on why I retired from 1st Mariner Bank, why I didn't continue in my marriages, my crappy divorces," he said. "I talk about it very bluntly; it's not very flattering. Some people are going to say what a bad guy I am."

Hale said his children have read the book and that it "filled in a lot of blanks for them."

"My kids are great, they're proud of me," he said. "They know that I'm pretty tough, had to be hardworking. But I'm not normal. How many people do you know that did what I did?"

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