Baltimore Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean set up a city contract that resulted in thousands of dollars in payments being sent to the address of her sister's hair salon for public relations work that apparently was never done.
Mrs. McLean shepherded an agreement past top city officials 15 months ago to hire a woman named Michele D. McCloud to write news releases, clip articles and do other clerical work. The contract, renewed in October, called for payments of $21.73 an hour.
Checks were sent every other week to Salon Me'Chelle at 5401 Park Heights Ave. in Northwest Baltimore -- a beauty shop owned by the comptroller's sister and brother-in-law, Wynnona M. Fountain and Virgil S. Moore Jr.
Even though she's received some $15,000 on the city payroll, however, there's no visible evidence that Ms. McCloud has performed any work for the comptroller's office.
She is a mystery to everyone from the deputy comptroller to the public information officer, who is listed as her supervisor.
"I've never met her," said Marie E. Henderson, who handles public relations on a part-time basis for the comptroller and is supposed to receive help from Ms. McCloud.
Swiveling in her chair to point out the overflowing stacks of files on her desk, Ms. Henderson said she could use an assistant. "For a while I was able to get some volunteer work. But I've been entirely responsible for the whole shebang," she said.
When asked about Ms. McCloud, Deputy Comptroller Shirley A. Williams shrugged her shoulders and said, "Who is she? Don't ask me. I've never seen her."
Mrs. McLean, the third most powerful official in Baltimore government, recently has come under scrutiny amid reports that she steered a million-dollar city lease to a building that she and her husband own. The deal, which called for the city's geriatric nursing service to move from rent-free offices at Montebello Rehabilitation Hospital to the former headquarters of the McLeans' travel agency, is the subject of a grand jury investigation. "Oh, my goodness," Mrs. McLean said yesterday when asked about the McCloud contract. She would not answer questions and walked away.
Her attorney, William H. Murphy Jr., did not respond to a letter requesting an explanation of the contract. The letter was hand-delivered yesterday to his Mount Vernon office.
Employees of the comptroller's office said they assumed Ms. McCloud's job existed on paper alone. Although contract employees can work from home, neither Recording Secretary Marion Navarria nor Ms. Henderson believed the woman works for the office and is paid.
Yet documents obtained by The Sun show that a Michele McCloud originally received monthly checks of $917 and later was paid $1,303 every other week -- an increase of about 200 percent. The checks apparently stopped this fall, according to City Hall sources.
The contract, introduced in September of 1992 and renewed in October of this year, was presented both times at the last minute to the Board of Estimates, a five-member panel that votes on all city financial agreements.
Both contracts are signed by Ms. McCloud -- but the signature on the first agreement is markedly different from the renewal. The discrepancy could not be explained.
Maryland's special prosecutor, Stephen Montanarelli, is investigating the contract as well as allegations that Mrs. McLean failed to reveal her financial stake in proposing the lease for the travel agency headquarters in October. That deal, which would have boosted the value of the Federal Hill building by at least $200,000, was revoked by city officials a month later.
The deputy comptroller was one of three witnesses to testify before the grand jury yesterday morning at the Clarence M. Mitchell Courthouse in downtown Baltimore.
A source close to the probe said the recipient of checks sent to the Park Heights address had the Social Security number assigned to Mrs. McLean's 21-year-old daughter, Michelle D. McLean.
The Social Security number on city payment orders made out to Michele McCloud is the same except for the last digit. The individual to whom that number was assigned could not be determined yesterday, and the discrepancy could not be reconciled.
Contacted at her Fell's Point apartment, Michelle McLean declined to discuss the matter.
Asked if she ever used the name Michele McCloud, she said, "I don't have any comment, sir. But obviously, since you've come to my door, you know what my name is."
Efforts to locate a Michele D. McCloud who worked for the comptroller have been unsuccessful.
However, at Salon Me'Chelle, Mrs. McLean's brother-in-law said he knew the woman. She uses the shop after hours, he said, to do research and writing.
"She uses the place when doing some writing," said Mr. Moore Jr. He and Ms. Fountain own the two-story brick hair parlor.
Asked if Ms. McCloud lives there, he said, "No, no. This is strictly business. She just comes in and uses the space to type usually after we are gone."
Yesterday, while the grand jury interviewed witnesses in the McLean case, the comptroller chose not to run again for chairmanship of the city's employee retirement system.
Mrs. McLean surprised many members of the retirement board, which oversees the pension plans for city workers, by nominating Harry Deitchman to take over.
"It is my belief that we should turn over the chair" to a new person every two years, she told the board.
Mr. Deitchman, retired head of payroll for the city, blushed deeply during Mrs. McLean's short speech and expressed surprise.
Edward C. Heckrotte Sr., who is a member of a related pension board, and attended the meeting, said he found her explanation of favoring a rotation "hard to believe."
With the controversy engulfing the comptroller's office, Mr. Heckrotte said, "there was a question as to whether she would have had the votes" to retain the chairmanship.
Probe is widening
Otis Warren Jr., a prominent developer who had a contract to buy the McLeans' Federal Hill building, and Ms. Williams, the deputy comptroller, were seen leaving the grand jury room yesterday. The third witness was a secretary from the personnel department.
Neither Mr. Warren nor Ms. Williams would comment.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke acknowledged yesterday that he had been informed that the grand jury investigation is broadening. But he would not discuss specifics about the McCloud contract.