Pugh campaign says 11 checks bounced--or did they?
By Edward Ericson Jr.
Mar 25, 2016 | 5:16 PM
In a strange if somewhat predictable twist in a campaign that some polls say is leading the race to become Baltimore's next mayor, State Sen. Catherine Pugh's campaign reported on March 22 that 11 of its largest donors all bounced their checks to the campaign committee in January. In a Feb. 22 story, City Paper had questioned the campaign about nine of these donors—all of whom pledged the legal maximum of $6,000—noting that several of them appeared to not have the means to give so much, most of the names were incorrect, and all of the others were non-existent corporations.
It is a crime to donate money to a political campaign under a false name, and it is a crime for a campaign to knowingly accept such donations. As news of the failed donations broke, Pugh denied any knowledge of them. "I didn't know about it until the campaign report," she says.
But the campaign and its spokespeople did not say why, when queried about the odd gifts last month, no one mentioned that the checks had already bounced weeks earlier.
And they did not respond to follow-up questions when one donor challenged the campaign report.
David Novicki says he did not bounce his $6,000 check Pugh's campaign—though Pugh's campaign report says he did; Novicki says he placed a stop-payment order on it.
"I decided I didn't like what she stood for," says Novicki, standing at the door of his modest Baltimore County condominium. "I can write a check for a campaign. I've done it before many times." (State election finance records indicate that this was the only check Novicki ever wrote to a political campaign in Maryland and the only David Novicki who appears in Federal Election Commission records as a donor to federal candidates is a Connecticut podiatrist).
Novicki declines to say what Pugh stands for that he suddenly decided he disagreed with. "Why does it matter?" he asks.
Many of the allegedly bounced checks came from people or entities with ties to Giovanna Blatterman, a Little Italy figure and former city official. One came from her son, Eric, who donated purportedly as "Eric Blaise." One came from her mother, Rose DiFatta Aquia, whose name was mangled in the filing to "Rose Difett." Two $6,000 checks came from a rowhouse across the street from Blatterman's daughter's restaurant. (The $6,000 check from Blatterman's daughter, who is also named Gia, apparently cleared).
Four $6,000 checks came from a building Eric Blatterman's LLC owns. Two were from tenants in a rowhouse there, Nicholas Rossi and Lauren Gugliuzza (spelled several different wrong ways in Pugh's filings), one each from "Sophie Staffing, Inc." and "MC, LLC," neither of which was listed in state records. They all bounced. (Blatterman did not respond to City Paper's message left with a receptionist at the salon).
A final $6,000 check came from Marcus Boskovich of "Sowers Point," (actually Somers Point) New Jersey. City Paper was unable to reach him, but an online profile of a man by that name in that location appears on a website called "CouchSurfing.com." The site says he is "not accepting guests."
Novicki denies that Gia Blatterman put him up to writing the $6,000 check. "I don't know what you're talking about," says Novicki, who works as a hair stylist and colorist in Blatterman's Platinum Salon on Falls Road.
He says he is also unaware that he is being sued by a credit union for nearly $16,000, his address listed in the lawsuit as Blatterman's Falls Road salon. "Check your facts," he says. "I've never been sued for a dime in my life." (A lawyer for the plaintiff in that case, First Financial Federal Credit Union, confirms that this David Novicki is the defendant in that case, currently scheduled for trial on June 9. Told Novicki wrote a $6,000 check to Pugh's campaign, the lawyer exclaims "what?").
It is at least possible that Novicki could have given Pugh $6,000 on January 13 and changed his mind before January 19, the date that the campaign says all the checks came back ISF. It is not very likely that MC, LLC, or any of the other bogus corporations could have. Wells Fargo helpfully offers its guidelines, explaining that you need to show "Articles of Organization" "Articles of Incorporation," or similar documents to open any business account. Is it possible to open a bank account for a company that does not have these things?
"The answer is absolutely not, and because of the laws that came into play after 9-11 it's even more difficult than it used to be," says Tiffany C. Wright, President of The Resourceful CEO, a business consultancy in Atlanta, Georgia. "You cannot open an account without having actual documentation showing that the company is legitimate, and an EIN."
Keith Timmons is Pugh's campaign treasurer. He says all the bad checks were just that—bad checks. "If it's a false check or a false bank account, the bank would let you know that that was the case," Timmons says by phone. "Clearly they bounced. They came from Wells Fargo… they send you a notice that they came back."
Timmons says he received letters from Wells Fargo indicating the checks had bounced. He declines to show City Paper the letters, or the checks, saying he has to consult with Pugh. A day later he does not return City Paper's calls.
Timmons faces other problems. On February 4 the Attorney Grievance Commission filed a civil complaint against him in circuit court, relating to his law practice. He is accused of violating eight different rules of professional conduct, and faces possible disbarment.