Dixon angered over leaks in case

Mayor Sheila Dixon lashed out at prosecutors and reporters yesterday in her first comments since acknowledging having a personal relationship with a developer at the same time that she voted on contracts that benefited his company.

In a combative news conference outside City Hall, Dixon vowed "to survive this" and accused the state prosecutor's office of leaking information to the news media that she cannot respond to without harming her own case. Her comments came in conjunction with a push by allies to express public support for the embattled mayor.

"It doesn't give me a fair opportunity to share, and there's a process that has to take place," Dixon said. "The media know as much about me as the prosecutor's office right now."

State prosecutors spent seven hours last week searching Dixon's home and served at least nine subpoenas on current and former city employees. This week, they began bringing witnesses before a Baltimore grand jury.

Dixon acknowledged Monday that she had had a personal relationship with a prominent developer, Ronald H. Lipscomb, and that the two had exchanged gifts. City law requires officials to report gifts from people who do business with the city, but Dixon has not reported any gifts from Lipscomb in at least seven years. A document obtained by The Sun indicated that the two frequently traveled together even as she voted on his projects as president of the City Council.

The document said Dixon - who made $80,000 at the time - spent thousands of dollars at trendy boutiques and chain retailers during a weekend trip to Chicago with Lipscomb. Asked yesterday about the expenses, Dixon said she does not buy clothes very often - but she said that when she does, "I buy quality."

"I know how to maintain a budget, and if you want to see my budget and what I do, you can just look at my tax returns and other information," Dixon said.

After the news conference, The Sun requested to see the mayor's income tax returns, which are not public information. A spokesman for Dixon, Sterling Clifford, said he was working on the request but the returns were not made available yesterday.

An affidavit that prosecutors drafted in November in seeking a search warrant they served on Lipscomb's company traces the purchase of a $2,000 gift certificate that Dixon used to buy two fur coats to a credit card owned by Lipscomb's company. The affidavit also indicates that Lipscomb's company paid for her flight to Chicago when she traveled there with the developer.

Shortly after Dixon took questions from reporters yesterday, a member of her 2007 campaign staff distributed a news release stating that two Dixon allies - Dels. Maggie L. McIntosh and Curtis S. Anderson, both Baltimore Democrats - would be available to speak about the mayor.

Anderson did not respond to several calls seeking comment. McIntosh pointed to Dixon's achievements in reducing the number of murders in the city, moving Baltimore to single-stream recycling and focusing on fitness.

"I'm outraged at the line now that this special prosecutor is taking," McIntosh said. "I am outraged that the media seem to know more about the investigation than does her staff and her lawyer. Frankly, I really do believe that this has turned into a witch hunt."

Dixon supporters have quietly noted in recent days that Dixon was only one of five votes on the Board of Estimates and that, at the time, the board was controlled by then-Mayor Martin O'Malley. Yesterday, Dixon made that point more forcefully.

"I wasn't the mayor then," Dixon said. "That was under the O'Malley administration who handled those. You can look on the records of all the different companies that I abstained from on the Board of Estimates."

As a member of the Board of Estimates, Dixon did vote to approve a $13.6 million tax break for the Spinnaker Bay apartment building in 2004 - a project led by H&S Properties Development, which is owned by bakery magnate John Paterakis Sr.

A letter obtained by The Sun shows that Lipscomb became an equity partner in that project in 2002, agreeing to invest between $1 million and $2 million in a Paterakis holding company that has overseen much of the development in Harbor East.

O'Malley was absent from that meeting; however, he signed an ordinance by the City Council in 2002 that was also required to move the tax break forward.

Meanwhile, activity at the grand jury has slowed in recent days. Jurors were dismissed from duty early yesterday for the second day in a row.

About 2:30 p.m., jurors filed out of the grand jury room at the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse and marched upstairs to the courtroom of Associate Judge Althea M. Handy. She quickly ushered jurors into her private chamber and dismissed them for the day.

Newspaper and television reporters have been camped out in front of the grand jury room since Monday. They typically sit on a long, wooden bench not far from the door to the grand jury room.

Yesterday, the bench was gone.