An attorney representing Baltimore Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean called a news conference yesterday to declare that Mrs. McLean would remain silent during the criminal investigation of allegations that she steered a city lease to a building she and her husband own.
At a news conference in his Mount Vernon office, the attorney, William H. Murphy Jr., said the controversy over the lease had been a difficult ordeal for the comptroller. Neither she nor her husband answered reporters' questions.
Mrs. McLean, the third most powerful official in city government, introduced the lease proposal in late October without revealing her financial stake in the property. The deal, which would have boosted the building's value by at least $200,000, was revoked by top city officials a month later.
The lease and Mrs. McLean's involvement are subjects of a grand jury investigation by Maryland's special prosecutor.
"We have advised Mrs. McLean to say absolutely nothing about anything connected with the present investigation," said Mr. Murphy, a prominent Baltimore attorney who stepped down 10 years ago from a Circuit Court judgeship to run for mayor.
"She will answer whatever charges that may or may not result from this investigation in court," he continued. "I think it would be inappropriate for the McLeans to make any further comment. And frankly, the comments that have been solicited from her have not been aimed at her best interests. They've been aimed at other agendas."
Mr. Murphy refused to elaborate. He said he just wanted to make clear that the comptroller and her husband would remain silent during the investigation.
But no sooner was the news conference in his Mount Vernon office over than Mrs. McLean granted interviews to two local television stations. She talked generally about the emotional impact of the controversy, but not about the lease itself.
Mr. Murphy described it as a "very, very difficult ordeal for her." The comptroller, he said, has a long history of promoting women's and minority business interests and "has never been in a situation like this before." She has no intention of stepping down, he added.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who has asked the city ethics board to investigate, said yesterday that he has received calls urging him to take further action. But he said the comptroller was elected independently and it would be premature for him to call for her resignation while the matter is under investigation.
The grand jury is looking into Mrs. McLean's apparent attempt to sidestep the mayor and other top city officials by not revealing that the building up for lease to the Health Department was the former headquarters of Four Seas & Seven Winds Travel Inc. Other issues under investigation include the use of the building's rear street address on city lease documents.
Mrs. McLean has said that she considered the building sold to Baltimore developer Otis Warren Jr., who had a contract for the property contingent on the lease. He has since withdrawn his offer.