Ex-Mandel aide finding friends in high places

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Eleven years after he was disbarred for bribery, well-connected lobbyist has assembled the backing of a powerful array of state political and business leaders in an effort to regain his license to practice law.

Maurice R. "Mo" Wyatt, the one-time patronage boss for then-Gov. Marvin Mandel, is being supported by a group that includes a Republican congresswoman, the presiding officers of the Maryland General Assembly and a host of high-powered businessmen and lawyers.

The move to reinstate Mr. Wyatt to the Maryland bar follows his full pardon by Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who quietly granted him executive clemency in September 1991.

"Maurice has re-established himself to be dependable and trustworthy," House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., a Kent County Democrat, wrote in a letter on Mr. Wyatt's behalf.

Mr. Mitchell's son, Clayton A. Mitchell, works for Mr. Wyatt in his real estate firm.

"As a member of the state legislature, I have worked with him on both drafting and amending legislation," Speaker Mitchell wrote

in an Aug. 3, 1992, letter to the Maryland Court of Appeals. "He has a comprehensive understanding of the law and has maintained this knowledge over the years. . . .

"I know he has worked diligently to keep the confidences of his lobbying clients through the years and has been very successful to that end," wrote Speaker Mitchell, who has known Mr. Wyatt "professionally and socially for over 25 years."

Mr. Mitchell was out of town last week and efforts to reach him were unsuccessful.

Mr. Wyatt's relationship with the speaker became an issue last month during the most recent session of the Maryland General Assembly, after Mr. Mitchell testified for a bill that would benefit one of his longtime friends, who is also a lobbying client of Mr. Wyatt's.

Mr. Mitchell's letter is one of 23 that Mr. Wyatt has received supporting his petition for reinstatement.

Typical of the letters -- which speak of the "shame" Mr. Wyatt's conviction brought on him and his family, his contrition and rehabilitation -- is one from Henry J. Knott Sr., the millionaire builder and friend of Mr. Schaefer's.

"When he was convicted . . . of bribery, I was sure there was some mistake," Mr. Knott wrote in a Jan. 8 letter. "He explained to me with sincere remorse the circumstances and the seriousness of the crime. I was encouraged to see that he reacted to this setback with a determination to redeem his name and rebuild his reputation."

Other letter-writers include Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, R-2nd; state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's; Senate Majority Leader Clarence W. Blount, D-Baltimore; and Sen. George W. Della Jr., D-Baltimore, a lifelong friend and political ally.

William A. Fogle Jr., state secretary of licensing and regulation, whose agency regulates Mr. Wyatt's real estate business, also wrote a letter.

And Gerald D. Glass, the former state special prosecutor who successfully argued the case against Mr. Wyatt and two co-defendants, asked that he be readmitted to the bar.

George L. Russell Jr., the former Baltimore City solicitor and one-time mayoral aspirant who is now a prominent city lawyer, was among the practicing attorneys who weighed in for Mr. Wyatt.

Among the business leaders are Baltimore bakery king John Paterakis, a friend of Mr. Schaefer's and a perennial rainmaker for political campaigns, particularly the governor's; and Leonard J. Attman, the Glen Burnie builder-developer who at one time employed Mr. Wyatt as a lawyer.

Mr. Wyatt declined to discuss the matter on the advice of his lawyer, Melvin J. Sykes.

"I've said in the petition what he has to say at this point," Mr. Sykes said. "I'm concerned that in a sensitive situation like this, any extra court statement would be inappropriate and possibly misinterpreted.

"I feel the petition should speak for itself," he said. "Anything that is said by him or on his behalf should be said only in the court proceedings."

On Feb. 24, Mr. Wyatt filed with the Court of Appeals a petition for reinstatement to the bar. The state's highest court had two options -- either reject the plea outright or send it to the Attorney Grievance Commission for further investigation. On March 11, the court chose to refer the matter to the commission.

Melvin Hirshman, bar counsel for the commission, said his agency's review process could take up to 18 months before a recommendation is made to the court.

Mr. Wyatt was convicted of three counts of bribery in 1980 for his part in a scheme to aid land developers in the Gwynns Falls watershed who were stymied by a 1974 sewer moratorium imposed by Dr. Neil Solomon, then the state health secretary.

According to prosecutors, Mr. Wyatt participated in a scheme with the late Allen B. Spector, then a private attorney and city councilman who later was a district judge, and Donald H. Noren, then an assistant attorney general assigned to the health department.

The three agreed to share $20,000 in fees paid by the developers to obtain exceptions to the sewer ban. Mr. Wyatt received $5,650, according to court documents.

Mr. Wyatt received a two-year suspended sentence, was fined $15,000 and placed on probation for two years. The conviction was upheld on appeal.

At the time of the hearing on his disbarment in 1980, the majority of the judges on the Court of Appeals -- including Chief Judge Robert C. Murphy -- recused themselves because three of them had been appointed to the bench by Mr. Mandel, and one had served on his Cabinet. Mr. Wyatt was disbarred in 1982.

Mr. Wyatt, who turns 51 today, is a longtime State House fixture who, like Mr. Della, was weaned on Maryland politics during the modern heyday of the city's political machines.

Both Mr. Wyatt and Mr. Della are the second generation of the once-powerful Wyatt-Della organization in South Baltimore. The machine was named after their respective fathers, the late Joseph M. Wyatt, a lawyer and former state senator who was later Annapolis' top-paid lobbyist in the mid-1960s, and the late George W. Della, one-time president of the Maryland Senate and also a latter-day lobbyist.

In 1953, at the age of 11, Mr. Wyatt served as a page in the U.S. House of Representatives, later serving as an assistant to three Democratic congressmen from Baltimore and a Democratic U.S. senator from Maryland.

After Mr. Mandel became governor in 1969, he named Mr. Wyatt his appointments secretary, in charge of dispensing patronage.

Once one of a tight circle of aides to the former governor known as the "Mandelniks," Mr. Wyatt was as much a legislative lobbyist as he was patronage chief for Mr. Mandel.

He was one of the administration's lobbyists known as "The Corporation" for their legislative "arm-twisting" abilities in making sure "what Marvin wants, Marvin gets," as the expression went ** at the time.

He remains an effective lobbyist for his private clients and is still considered a significant fund-raiser for political candidates.

Last year, he earned $63,350 from five lobbying clients.

For the session of the legislature that ended April 12, his clients included the Maryland Auto and Truck Recyclers Association, Maryland Pest Control Association and Patapsco Bingo.

The two clients involved in the flap with Mr. Mitchell this year were Baltimore Industrial Medical Center Inc. and Metropolitan Clinics Inc., the latter of which is owned by Arnold Praver, a businessman friend of the House speaker who also wrote a letter on Mr. Wyatt's behalf.

The bill, which died in the legislature, would have required drivers who do not have medical insurance to buy extra auto insurance -- an option called personal injury protection -- to cover their medical bills if they are injured in an accident.

Both Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Wyatt denied any connection between the lobbyist's employment of the younger Mr. Mitchell as a real estate agent and their separate efforts on behalf of the legislation. In Mr. Mitchell's letter to the Court of Appeals, the speaker did not mention that Mr. Wyatt employs his son.

Page W. Boinest, the governor's press secretary, said "the request for [Mr. Wyatt's] pardon was treated like any other request -- reviewed and, in this case, granted."

Ms. Boinest said Mr. Schaefer receives 30 to 40 pardon requests a year. The governor considers clemency for nonviolent offenders seven to 10 years after the sentence is completed.

The pardon of Mr. Wyatt -- dated Sept. 9, 1991, and signed by Mr. Schaefer and then-Secretary of State Winfield M. Kelly Jr. -- is part of the Court of Appeals file.

But it is not recorded in the public pardon docket on file in the secretary of state's office, as is required by law.

Ms. Boinest said the paperwork on Mr. Wyatt was sent to the secretary's office, but "it was inadvertently omitted from the logbook."

But she noted that "the pardon was advertised," as is required by law, "so it is certainly a matter of the public record." A small classified ad mentioning the then-pending pardon of Mr. Wyatt appeared in The Sun Aug. 27, 1991.

Mr. Schaefer and Mr. Mandel are longtime friends, each of whom can trace his political roots to the same boss -- the late Irvin Kovens, who was convicted with the former governor in 1977 on federal mail fraud and racketeering charges.

Mr. Mandel and his five associates were convicted of taking part in a mail fraud scheme involving gifts of clothing, jewelry and land interests in return for supporting legislation to increase the number of racing days at the Marlboro Race Track. Mr. Mandel was charged with gaining $350,000 in personal profit in the scheme.

Though Mr. Mandel served 19 months in federal prison, his conviction was overturned on appeal in 1987, after the Supreme Court in a Kentucky case restricted the scope of the mail fraud statute used to indict Mr. Mandel, Mr. Kovens and four other co-defendants. The six were cleared in 1989, when the Supreme Court refused to take up the government's last appeal of the case.

Others who wrote on Mr. Wyatt's behalf are lawyers Joshua H. Treem, Arvin E. Rosen, George E. Pappas and H. Russell Smouse, the last two of whom represented him in his bribery trial.

James G. Gosnell Sr., chairman of the legislative committee of the Maryland Auto and Truck Recyclers Association, and Thomas W. Redmond Sr., past president of the organization, wrote the high court, as did Russell A. May, president of Baltimore Industrial Medical Center Inc., Mr. Wyatt's lobbying client.

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