Young aide allegedly shredded files amid corruption probe Francis refuses to confirm or deny the accusations

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Facing a critical deadline in a probe that would eventually lead to Larry Young's expulsion from the General Assembly, one of his top aides shredded file folders full of documents from the former senator's West Baltimore field office, sources have told The Sun.

The sources, two of whom have direct knowledge of the alleged shredding, provided the newspaper with detailed accounts about how Young's former aide, John H. Francis, allegedly shredded the records on Dec. 19, 1997. The sources declined to be identified because they said they fear retribution.

At the time of the alleged shredding, the ethics committee was requesting numerous documents from Young, and the state prosecutor's office had launched a corruption probe into his office and outside business practices.

Francis, who no longer works for Young, declined in an interview to confirm or deny that he shredded records at the former senator's request.

"I'm not going to answer any questions," he said. "I don't have anything to offer at this point."

His refusal to answer questions left unclear what documents are missing and how important they might have been to investigators. Young is the focus of two grand jury investigations -- one coordinated by the U.S. attorney's office; the other by the state prosecutor's office.

Young's lawyer denied that his client directed anyone to shred documents.

"It's ludicrous," attorney Gregg L. Bernstein said yesterday. "The state ethics committee made a request for documents, and we provided the documents that they requested. I have absolutely no information that any documents were shredded."

The special counsel to the ethics panel, Jervis S. Finney, said this week that committee members never considered the possibility that Young or someone on his staff would destroy documents.

"Aside from the gross misconduct involved," Finney said, "this reflects an utter disrespect and scorn for the legislature itself, as well as for the simple truth."

Shredding documents could lead to possible criminal charges, including official misconduct and malicious destruction of state property, according to legal experts. It appears less likely that obstruction of justice charges could be pursued because there was no judicial proceeding or grand jury reviewing the case Dec. 19.

At the time of the alleged shredding, the state prosecutor's office was in the early stages of conducting a criminal inquiry into Young's activities. On Dec. 4, The Sun reported in a front-page article that state prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli had opened a criminal investigation. But the state did not convene a grand jury until several weeks later.

Montanarelli declined to comment about the alleged shredding or say whether it could result in additional charges being pursued by his agents. "I have no comment," he said yesterday.

State and federal agents are examining Young's outside business interests to determine whether he and the corporations he controlled benefited from the position he held as a senior legislator and health care expert in Annapolis.

State and federal grand juries have issued dozens of subpoenas demanding records and testimony from those who were once close to Young. The grand juries are examining Young's relationships to several health care companies, which provided him with gifts and consulting fees while Young chaired the Senate Health subcommittee.

The inquiries began when The Sun published a report Dec. 3, 1997, detailing Young's legislative activities and his outside businesses, which he ran out of his taxpayer-funded district office near the B&O; Railroad Museum.

That day, the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics announced that it planned to examine the newspaper report and launch an investigation of the senator. As part of that inquiry, the committee set a Dec. 19 deadline for Young to voluntarily provide records in response to 20 allegations of ethical misconduct issued by the panel.

The committee accused Young of accepting fees and gifts from health care companies and others with business before the state; holding a no-bid consulting contract with Coppin State College; and using his state office as a base of operations for at least three corporations he controlled.

Before the Dec. 19 deadline, Young's attorneys requested an extension, saying they needed more time to gather the documents. The ethics panel eventually granted Young an extension until Dec. 24.

During the afternoon of Dec. 19, sources say Francis carried boxes and files of documents out of Young's second-floor office at 200 S. Arlington Ave. and walked down the hall to the office of Edward E. Fox Jr., who is president of Central Security Investigations and a member of Young's inner circle of friends and advisers.

Francis spent the rest of the day in Fox's office, shredding the records, the sources say.

Fox referred calls for comment to his attorney, Francis R. Laws, who said yesterday that his client told him there is "absolutely no truth to any of that. It's absolutely absurd."

On Christmas Eve, Young met the new deadline. His lawyers said Young complied with the ethics committee's request for documents. But the presiding chairman of the panel, Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr., said at the time that Young produced less than 10 percent of the records requested.

"We don't have all the documents that we'd like to have, but it's something we have no control over," Montague said Jan. 2. "We're trying to get a full picture, and a fair picture. The committee will deal with what it has. It's his election to provide us with that information -- or not provide it."

Montague asked Young and his lawyers to provide more documents, including invoices, billing records, canceled checks, check registers and tax returns.

Young eventually provided additional documents to the committee. But some of the documents raised more questions for panel members. They said they were concerned at the time that some of the records submitted in Young's defense appeared to have been put together only after the charges had become public.

For instance, legislators said, they were concerned about the authenticity of a lease Young provided to the committee. The lease ostensibly showed that Young was paying a separate rent for his private consulting company, the LY Group, which was based inside his state-funded office. Committee members also said they were concerned about the authenticity of a check register Young provided to the panel.

Legal experts said prosecutors could pursue official misconduct charges in the case if they can prove that records were falsified and provided to the ethics panel.

Young's attorney said yesterday that he had "no knowledge" that any records had been falsified.

Committee members said the questions about the documents were never resolved, but they had enough information to decide Young's fate. On Jan. 12, the committee voted to recommend that he be expelled from the Senate for ethical violations. Four days later, the Senate voted 30-10 to remove the 24-year State House veteran -- the first such expulsion in Maryland in more than two centuries.

Young, who has denied any wrongdoing, is preparing to run for re-election this fall.

Ethics committee members say they are troubled by the news that documents from Young's Senate office may have been shredded.

"In a situation where we were seeking documents to explain the behavior we were looking into, to destroy records at that time certainly seems disingenuous," Montague said yesterday. "We can assume that some of the documents that were destroyed may have been important to our investigation."

Pub Date: 6/19/98

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