Reading between the lines of the Dixon indictment

Baltimore Sun

Dec. 21, 2006, was a long and busy day for then-City Council President Sheila Dixon.

According to an article in The Baltimore Sun, she arrived at a meeting of the Baltimore Development Corp. just as it was about to end. Its members had voted to recommend to the mayor - who soon would be Dixon, ascending to the office because of Martin O'Malley's recent election as governor - that a group including Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis be given development rights to build a $250 million "sportsplex" on a site south of M&T; Bank Stadium.

The Sun noted that the city's development officials voted in closed session, in apparent violation of Maryland's open-meetings law, and also that Dixon asked to speak with them in another closed session. What she discussed with the members, as a result, has remained a mystery to anyone who wasn't there.

I think I might have cracked the case.

I found some clues as I reviewed the indictment of Dixon, who is scheduled to go to trial Monday on charges that she stole donated gift cards intended for the city's needy during the holidays. According to prosecutors, who followed the trail of the cards in excruciating detail, Dixon spent the cards herself or gave them to family and friends to use.

It's not a pretty picture, or at least not the picture you want of your city's chief exec. But it is the picture that will be on full display in the coming weeks as the cloud of suspicion that has hovered over Dixon during the entire time she has been mayor finally gets its airing, openly and under oath in a courtroom.

I must confess, deep in the dark, tabloid section of my heart, I've been more interested in the other case against Dixon, which has not yet been scheduled for trial. That case involves Dixon's failure to report on city ethics forms that she received gifts from a developer who had business with the city - and, as it turns out, personal business with her as well.

So we'll have to wait a bit to hear more about what I've come to think of as the Saks-in-the-city half of the state prosecutor's case against Dixon - the fur coats, the shopping on Chicago's upscale Michigan Avenue, the stay at a Trump hotel in New York, all the other expensive gifts and getaways paid for by her one-time paramour, developer Ronald H. Lipscomb.

The case at hand doesn't have quite the glam factor since the gift cards were to stores that had locations in the retail-deficient Baltimore area - Old Navy, Target and the like. Still, Lipscomb plays a role in these charges as well, as one of the two developers Dixon allegedly hit up for gift cards, saying they would go to needy families.

He could take the stand and testify against the mayor, confirming what he already told a grand jury as part of the state prosecutor's investigation. After being queried about his gifts to Dixon, according to documents filed in the case, he was asked about the gift cards she solicited from him and whether they were gifts to her as well.

"No," he said, "not at all."

While the details will be fleshed out during the trial, the indictment gives the basic outline of the plot.

It also serves as something of a cautionary tale, for those who would divert funds: Use cash, much harder to follow than those gift cards with their magnetic data strips, which can be tracked from the point of purchase to when they're cashed in.

According to the indictment, an employee of Lipscomb's purchased 18 Best Buy gift cards worth $600 on Dec. 19, 2006, and 18 Circuit City gift cards also worth $600 the following day.

A day later, after she went to that BDC meeting, the indictment says Dixon used 11 of the Best Buy cards at the store on Pratt Street, buying an Xbox 360 Need for Speed bundle with a 2-year Xbox product replacement plan and an iPod USB adapter.

Later, at about 10:15 p.m., Dixon was still on the go. At a Circuit City, the indictment says, five of those Doracon-donated gift cards were used by her driver, Howard Dixon, who is not related to her, to buy a Sony PlayStation Portable using his boss' home address and telephone number. Dixon herself bought some unspecified something using her personal credit card at the store at the same time, the indictment says.

So, obviously, that is why she needed to go into closed session with the development people: Xbox or PlayStation? Extended warranty or not?

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