Donald A. Baker, the Baltimore businessman who disappeared from his Inner Harbor condominium on March 12, was involved in a business dispute at the time in which he accused a former partner of trying to cut him out of a $4.2 million deal, court records show.
Baltimore police, who have been struggling with the case for nine days with no leads, are investigating the allegations. They are seeking all records of the transaction, corporate credit reports and bank statements -- as well as Mr. Baker's passport, will, insurance policies and other personal papers.
James H. Glenn, Mr. Baker's partner in the Chesapeake Randall food marketing business, firmly denied through his attorney that he had anything to do with Mr. Baker's disappearance and called the allegations contained in a January lawsuit "groundless" and "without merit."
"He was as surprised and dismayed to learn of Mr. Baker's disappearance as anyone else," said Stephen Nolan, who represented Mr. Glenn in the lawsuit.
"Jim Glenn is a very legitimate and fine businessman with children and family in this community. Any innuendo that he is anything but a gentleman is completely groundless," Mr. Nolan said.
In the suit -- filed in Baltimore Circuit Court two months before he disappeared -- Mr. Baker claimed that Mr. Glenn was trying to take over the food distributorship they owned together so he could sell it off and deprive Mr. Baker of his share of the profits.
Mr. Baker also claimed that his partner was trying to steer some of the money to a girlfriend and an attorney who was representing the firm.
The three intended to "carve up among themselves the $4,200,000 purchase price" for the Chesapeake Randall Co., Mr. Baker claimed in a suit filed Jan. 13 seeking a court order to stop the sale to REM Enterprises of Ellicott City and "foil their plot."
Mr. Baker voluntarily withdrew the suit a month later, his attorney said, but reserved the right to reopen it if settlement negotiations with Mr. Glenn failed.
"The parties were, frankly, in the process of resolving these issues when Mr. Baker disappeared," said James B. Astrachan, an attorney representing Mr. Baker.
"But it has not been resolved finally, no. There has been no final agreement and no money changing hands."
Richard McCready, the buyer, said he was stunned to learn that the lawsuit had been filed because the sale went through in December and is awaiting the execution of insurance policies to become final.
Under the terms of the sale, he said, Mr. Baker and Mr. Glenn both became salaried employees of Mr. McCready's REM zTC Enterprises in Ellicott City and its subsidiaries.
"It's really irrelevant to his disappearance because the deal was done months ago and Don did very well -- he was very happy," Mr. McCready said. "There's a lot of bold statements and bold language used in every lawsuit, but they don't always reflect what's actually going on.
"Everybody can look as much as they want, there's no connection between this dispute and his disappearance."
Police began looking into the matter yesterday -- along with other questions.
In the two years leading up to the sale of Chesapeake Randall, records show, Mr. Baker's partner borrowed $225,000 in the company's name from Mercantile Safe Deposit and Trust
Company in Baltimore, posting the firm's assets as security.
Then the company reported a string of burglaries and thefts at the business in which corporate checks and other documents were stolen.
Finally, Mr. Baker's personal secretary quit her job with the firm a few weeks before he disappeared, and her whereabouts are unknown.
"We're still treating this as a missing-person case because we don't have a body and we don't have an obvious motive for him to disappear," said Col. Ronald L. Daniel, head of the Baltimore Police Department Criminal Investigation Unit.
"We're not discounting any scenario, including that he might have just disappeared on his own or that there might be someone who would stand to benefit from his disappearance," he said.
"How much success we have in the coming days will depend on the degree of cooperation we get from his family and his business associates."
Police have dredged portions of the Inner Harbor in search of evidence that Mr. Baker might have been mugged while taking a walk near his HarborView tower condominium on the evening of March 12. But that search came up empty.
The 52-year-old marketing executive left a party for new residents of the building around 8 p.m., telling his wife that he was going for his customary stroll around the Inner Harbor.
When he did not return to the party, she assumed he had returned to their condominium.
About 2 a.m., when her husband still had not returned, Carol Baker called police.
In a missing person report, she said Mr. Baker had left his car keys, wallet, cash and credit cards in the family den -- not the actions of a man who was planning on leaving.
And all of the family's cars were accounted for, she noted.
What Mrs. Baker did not tell police was that her husband was embroiled in a multimillion-dollar dispute over the sale of Chesapeake Randall to REM Enterprises. Instead, she hired a private investigator, former Baltimore police officer Frank Napfel.
Mrs. Baker and Mr. Napfel have declined repeated requests for an interview.
Mr. Baker's actions immediately before he disappeared have been described as not those of someone worried about the imminent sale of his company.
"Keep in mind that immediately after he dismissed his lawsuit, Mr. Baker went on vacation to Tahiti and traveled extensively," said Mr. Nolan, the attorney.
"So, obviously, he was not overly concerned at the time. This was not a man who was worried that his partner was trying to undermine him.
"And that was just a few weeks ago."
Mr. Baker was last seen wearing a yellow sweater, gray slacks and black loafers. He wore a gold Rolex watch and a wedding band, inscribed "To Don, with love."
Police are requesting that anyone with information call the missing-persons unit at 396-2334.