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McLean is indicted on 5 counts

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Information in an article yesterday about Baltimore Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean's purchase of parquet flooring came from sources close to the investigation of her case, not, as was reported, from the manager of Pikesville Lumber Co.

The Sun regrets the error.

City Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean, the financial guardian of Baltimore government, was indicted yesterday on charges of stealing thousands of dollars in public funds and steering a lucrative city lease to a family-owned building.

A grand jury accused Mrs. McLean of felony theft and misconduct in office for allegedly authorizing $25,189 in payments to a fictitious consultant called Michele McCloud and to a phony organization.

She also was charged with misconduct for allegedly trying to arrange surreptitiously a $1 million lease of the former headquarters of Four Seas & Seven Winds Inc., the defunct travel business that she and her husband, James H. McLean, operated.

Mrs. McLean, who holds the third-most-powerful office in Baltimore, withdrew money from bank accounts under the name of the nonexistent Resources for Women to pay credit card bills for dinners at popular restaurants, lingerie and flowers, according to sources familiar with the financial transactions.

Robert Handel, manager of Pikesville Lumber Co., which sold her 20 boxes of parquet flooring for one of her homes, said a check from one of those bank accounts went to pay for parquet flooring for one of her homes.

She also used a city purchasing order to get a discount, Mr. Handel said.

If convicted of the theft charge, Mrs. McLean could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison, fined $1,000 and ordered to make restitution.

Penalties for the misconduct charge are not specified by statute.

"Obviously, this is a personal tragedy for her and her family," Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said. "The city will go on. Government is moving along, but clearly you have to recognize that this is a matter of great personal disappointment to her and her many supporters."

Mr. Schmoke, while expressing concern over the situation, said he has made no decision about impeaching Mrs. McLean and that he wants to discuss the indictment with Maryland's special prosecutor.

"Now that the charges have been brought, I would hope that she would sit down and evaluate her situation with her family and decide how to proceed," Mr. Schmoke said.

Neither Mrs. McLean nor her attorney, William H. Murphy Jr., would comment yesterday. The comptroller was to be served with a criminal summons and ordered to appear at a March 22 arraignment in Baltimore Circuit Court. She will not be arrested or required to post bail.

For the past two months, Mrs. McLean, 49, has been silent about the controversy engulfing her. When she went on a leave of absence Dec. 20, she defended her campaign for more diversity government and business, citing, for example, a law requiring that 20 percent of city contracts go to minority-owned companies.

Her comments came in response to a barrage of questions about her activities and the criminal investigation by State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli. Payments on her $53,000 annual salary are being held in escrow.

Yesterday, the 23-member Baltimore grand jury reconvened for the first time in two weeks. The predominantly black and female grand jury spent several hours deliberating before turning in the indictments at noon.

'Just the first step'

Mr. Montanarelli declined to answer questions about whether the city money allegedly stolen had been traced to the comptroller personally.

"This is just the first step," he said.

Cristina Gutierrez, Mr. Murphy's law partner, met with Mr. Montanarelli briefly about 12:30 p.m. She turned her back when a reporter asked for a comment.

City officials expressed little surprise at the indictments but emphasized that government would continue to run smoothly.

"It's an indictment, not a conviction," said Marie C. Henderson, the public information officer for the comptroller's office. "We'll continue to be operating and doing business as usual and waiting to see the natural course of the judicial system. I think that this happened at all is a tragedy itself."

Council President Mary Pat Clarke declined to comment. Other council members said they were relieved that the grand jury process was over and that they were eager for the McLean case to end.

"It's in everyone's best interest to end this as quickly as possible," said Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, a 2nd District Democrat.

A political unknown who rose swiftly to one of the top seats in Baltimore government, Mrs. McLean defined her public image by her business success.

She and her husband ran a successful travel agency in Federal Hill in the 1980s, a business that afforded them an increasingly affluent lifestyle.

The McLeans own an elegantly appointed three-story condominium at the Colonnade and a beach house in Delaware.

By the time she ran for comptroller, however, her business was slipping. Four Seas foundered in the recession, and by last fall, the McLeans were closing their last office and selling their customer list.

Faced with the threat of bankruptcy, the McLeans sought help from a friend, developer Otis Warren Jr. He promised to buy the couple's vacant building at 12 W. Montgomery St. for at least $550,000, enough to pay off their debts if a tenant could be found.

In late October, Mrs. McLean slipped a lease of the building past top officials, failing to disclose her ownership.

When her colleagues on the Board of Estimates, the five-member board that approves all city expenditures, discovered that she owned the building, they rescinded the 10-year, $1 million deal.

The state special prosecutor began investigating and discovered Michele McCloud on the comptroller's payroll.

In returning the indictment on a count of felony theft, the grand jury accused the comptroller of providing false invoices for Michele McCloud and Resources for Women and diverting the money for her own use.

The checks were sent to Salon Me'Chelle, a Baltimore beauty parlor run by Mrs. McLean's sister and brother-in-law. They were then deposited in checking accounts at Harbor Bank, including one account that the comptroller opened personally, using her daughter's Social Security number.

Forgery alleged

Both accounts also carry the name of Carolyn Burridge, a well known lobbyist in Annapolis who testified that her signature was forged.

The other name on the accounts was that of Michele D. McCloud, the phantom employee who was hired in September 1992 to write news releases, clip articles and do other clerical work for $21.73 an hour.

Network 2000, an organization for which Mrs. McLean was treasurer, also used Harbor Bank.

One of the Resources for Women checks went to buy the parquet flooring.

Mr. Handel, the manager of Pikesville Lumber, said he got a call from a woman in the city purchasing department asking that 19 boxes of wood flooring be reserved. He was surprised when Mrs. McLean paid for them with a personal check instead of a city check.

He said Mrs. McLean later bought an additional box of flooring with a check from the Resources for Women account.

Mrs. McLean is charged in one indictment with one count of felony theft and one count of misconduct in office for allegedly stealing $25,189.10 from the city.

In another indictment, she is charged with three counts of misconduct for allegedly steering the city lease to the Federal Hill building.

CHARGES IN INDICTMENT

Baltimore Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean was charged yesterday with stealing city funds and misconduct in office. Two indictments charge that she:

* Provided false invoices to authorize $25,189.10 in city payments to a fictitious consultant listed as Michele McCloud and to an organization named Resources for Women.

* Violated the city ethics law by not disqualifying herself on two votes regarding a 10-year, $1 million city lease on a building owned by her family in Federal Hill. The deal involved the former headquarters of Four Seas and Seven Winds, the travel agency that she and her husband, James H. McLean, owned.

Some examples of other Baltimore officials who have run into trouble:

* Council President Walter J. Orlinsky was indicted in 1982, charged with taking more than $10,000 in bribes from a Philadelphia company that won a lucrative sludge-hauling contract. He continued chairing City Council and Board of Estimates meetings until he resigned and pleaded guilty nearly six months after his indictment. He was sentenced to six months in prison.

* Councilman John A. Schaefer lost his seat in 1975 until after being convicted of conflict-of-interest charges. He was re-elected to his 1st District seat that fall.

* Comptroller J. Neil McCardell overcame council efforts to force him to take a leave of absence after he was indicted in 1953 on charges of accepting $15,000 in bribes from a construction contractor. Mr. McCardell -- who served when Baltimore's comptroller was the city's chief fiscal officer -- remained on the job and eventually was acquitted.

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