Dixon inquiry notes 'unexplained cash'

Investigators with the State Prosecutor's Office found that Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon made $13,800 in "unexplained cash" deposits in a six-week period during the spring of 2004, one of many details to emerge in a mammoth court filing that raises questions about Dixon's financial dealings as City Council president.

Ronald H. Lipscomb, a former Dixon boyfriend, provided about $4,000 of the sum, but investigators do not know the source of the rest of it, a fact that prompted one member of a grand jury investigating the mayor to ask: "Does the City Council President make that kind of money?" according to a transcript of one proceeding.

Investigators said the cash was "over and above" the $80,000 annual salary she made at the time.

Normally secret accounts of testimony given by Lipscomb, a close aide to Dixon and a state prosecutor's investigator before the grand jury were included as part of a motion the prosecutor's office filed to counter an effort by the mayor to dismiss perjury and theft charges against her.

The transcripts depict a "shopaholic" - as the aide characterized her - who couldn't pay for her extravagances and sought help from Lipscomb, a developer who had business before the City Council at the time.

Dixon would not comment yesterday but her attorney, Arnold M. Weiner, sought to cast doubt on the prosecutor's suspicions: "What appears to be unexplained to the state prosecutor is fully explained to us." He would not elaborate.

The court filing includes includes a recounting of testimony from the mayor's bodyguard Howard Dixon, who is no relation to her, describing what he said was her overspending and includes personal details about the lengths Lipscomb went to, according to the bodyguard, to conceal from his wife his affair with Dixon.

State prosecutors have been investigating Dixon since March 2006 when, as City Council president, she scolded officials from Comcast Corp. and pressed them to direct more work to minority-owned firms like the one that employed her sister.

Since it began, the probe has yielded four guilty pleas and charges have been filed against a city councilwoman. Dixon was indicted on perjury counts accusing her of failing to report on her city ethics form the gifts from Lipscomb and a theft count that maintains she spent gift cards intended for the poor.

Dixon is not accused of improperly obtaining the $13,800 but prosecutors say Dixon should have reported the roughly $4,000 from Lipscomb on her ethics form. Weiner said he does not expect the cash deposits to become an issue at trial but his team is "fully prepared for it."

The investigators, trying to determine the source of what they called "unexplained cash," questioned Dixon's sister Janice and the mayor's nephew Juan Dixon, an NBA player, and her ex-husband. "All of them told us that they did not give her cash whether it be for child support or alimony or in any form," said Special Agent John Poliks with the State Prosecutor's Office. The largest deposit, investigators said, includes one for $6,000 Dixon made in April 2004 at M&T Bank using an ATM. An investigator for the prosecutors testified that the bank "did not have ATM records back that far" but nevertheless deduced that Dixon used $100 bills when making the deposit because there would be no other way to fit that much currency into the ATM envelope the company uses, according to the testimony.

Weiner countered that investigators are drawing conclusions "based upon an alleged deposit into an ATM machine for which the state prosecutor never obtained any records."

It was in this period - in early 2004 - that Lipscomb bought Dixon a $2,000 gift certificate at a local furrier and paid for trips to Colorado, New York and Chicago, where he also chipped in for a shopping spree. After Dixon purchased $2,272 worth of clothes at a boutique there, Lipscomb handed her "about $2,000." Later, back in Baltimore he gave her between $1,500 and $2,200, he testified.

Dixon's lawyers have successfully argued in the past that prosecutors improperly used evidence of votes and bills she introduced to prove that Lipscomb was doing business with the city and that his gifts therefore should have been disclosed.

A judge ruled that Dixon's votes are protected by legislative immunity.

This time, prosecutors instead offered evidence of a groundbreaking ceremony Dixon attended for one of Lipscomb's projects and newspaper stories about the projects and meetings Dixon attended with the project's principals to prove that she was aware of the developments.

Further, prosecutors sounded incredulous that Dixon would have been unaware of the projects, hinting at their strategy for the trial. "She does not seem to read newspapers, know what developments are occurring within the city or even talk much to her paramour - even while, at the same time, taking lavish gifts and cash from him," prosecutors wrote.

In their filing, they submitted some of the grand jury testimony of Poliks, the prosecutors' investigator, who gave an account of Dixon giving her bodyguard a wad of 40 hundred-dollar bills in May 2004, and asking him to deposit the money into his account and then use the cash to pay her credit card company.

Poliks read from Howard Dixon's testimony: "She said she overspent and this bill was too high," Howard Dixon said.

Dixon recalled the then-City Council president saying: "I went shopping too much." He said such behavior was "not unusual for her. She's a shopalcholic [sic]," according to the filing.

In the past when reporters have asked the mayor about the designer clothes she bought in Chicago, she defended the purchases by saying that she does not buy clothes very often - but she said that when she does, "I buy quality."

The grand jury testimony described a very different portrait. With thousands of dollars coming due on her platinum American Express card from the Chicago trip, Sheila Dixon implored Howard Dixon to accept the cash and pay off her bill: "Do me this favor," her bodyguard recalled being told as he drove her from her West Baltimore home to downtown Baltimore, according to the court papers.

"I said, 'Okay, I do you a favor.' ... I did it," he said, according to the court file.

A retired Baltimore police officer, Howard Dixon was asked by the investigator if he was laundering money for his boss.

"I didn't ask her where the money come from so I really don't know where the money come from," he said in response, according to the court papers.

Prosecutors also filed the full transcript of the testimony Lipscomb provided after pleading guilty to campaign finance violations in a separate case and agreed to cooperate with the investigation.

The document was at times painfully personal as Lipscomb recounted how he had asked his best friend and employee to pay for a fur coat and train tickets for Sheila Dixon so that his wife - who was doing accounting for his company, Doracon Contracting - would not discover the affair.