Councilwoman's day in court arrives

A prominent Baltimore City councilwoman is due to appear in court Monday on campaign finance violation charges, marking the start of the final chapter of the corruption investigation that led to Sheila Dixon's resignation from the mayor's office.

Councilwoman Helen Holton, who represents a portion of Southwest Baltimore, was accused of exceeding campaign finance limits by asking bakery magnate John Paterakis Sr. and developer Ronald Lipscomb to pay $12,500 to fund a campaign poll during her election campaign. State law limits donors to giving no more than $4,000 to a candidate during a four-year election cycle.

The offense is classified as a misdemeanor, and a conviction would not result in her removal from office.

Sources close to the case indicate that Holton may be considering a plea deal. The case is scheduled to be heard in Baltimore Circuit Court by Judge Dennis M. Sweeney, who also presided over Dixon's trial.

Holton's attorney, Joshua R. Treem, declined to say whether his client planned to plead to the offense. Deputy State Prosecutor Thomas M. McDonough could not immediately be reached for comment.

If the case comes to trial, both Lipscomb — a former boyfriend of Dixon — and baker-turned-developer Paterakis are likely to testify against Holton. Both pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations in connection with Holton's poll.

Prosecutors have appealed a decision by Sweeney to dismiss a separate and more serious bribery charge. The Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, is weighing that case, after the second-highest court ruled that Sweeney was correct to dismiss the charge.

Holton, who often speaks of a deep faith, chairs the council's taxation and finance committee and played a key role during budget negotiations last spring. She oversaw a marathon of hearings on new taxes and cast the decisive vote in favor of the 2-cent bottle tax backed by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.