A convicted drug dealer who owns more than 120 slum rental houses in East Baltimore caught officials by surprise last week by touring City Hall and State House offices to lobby against laws that could cost him his real estate empire.
Strolling through the corridors of Annapolis in a business suit, George A. Dangerfield Jr. met with legislators from the Baltimore City delegation, trying to persuade them that he is a legitimate businessman whose trouble with the law is behind him.
Lawmakers responded with skepticism.
"I told him I'm like the man from Missouri," Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, a Baltimore Democrat, said yesterday. "You've got to show me."
Dangerfield's appearances came one week before he is scheduled to plead guilty in U.S. District Court to allegedly running a cocaine conspiracy that plowed its profits into rental properties.
He is also awaiting prosecution in three housing cases after being named one of the city's 10 most negligent landlords by Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III.
Dangerfield's rise from drug lord to landlord came to light in an article in The Sun on Feb. 14. It recounted his heavy-handed tactics with tenants and numerous brushes with the law that led to a federal drug indictment last year.
In an interview last week, Dangerfield contested the allegations against him, much as he has to city officials and legislators. He did not, however, respond to repeated phone calls to his North Avenue office about his lobbying efforts.
"I have never been one for controversy," said the 29-year-old president of Estate Management, an umbrella corporation for his 22 real estate holding companies.
"I'm not even sure how I got into the middle of this. But all my friends and family know I'm not a bad person," he said. "Now, I'm just sitting here, hoping and praying to God that this whole thing blows over.
"What's in the past is in the past. I just want to get on with my life."
But in recent weeks, Dangerfield has been forced to contend with intense public interest in his business dealings. He has been the subject of talk radio shows and outraged calls for reform by civic activists.
Prosecutors dispatched sheriff's deputies last week to summon him to court, where they intend to ask a judge to have him jailed as a slumlord. Within days of the story in The Sun, the House of Delegates began drafting two bills to give city officials more power to confiscate abandoned houses and properties linked to crime.
Dangerfield began to respond Monday. After signing up to speak at the City Council's regular meeting, he conferred privately with at least two council members, several witnesses and city officials said. He left the chamber, however, without making a public statement.
On Wednesday, he made the rounds in the House and Senate office buildings, across from the Maryland State House.
Flanked by a woman friend and a man who spoke on his behalf, Dangerfield stopped in to see Del. Samuel I. "Sandy" Rosenberg, the Baltimore Democrat who is having a bill drafted that would give the city more power to condemn and demolish slum properties.
Rosenberg wasn't in his office to greet Dangerfield, but the delegate's legislative aide met with him for about 10 minutes.
"He was the picture of professionalism," said Alex Sadowski. "At first we were a bit surprised to see him, but he wasn't at all threatening. He said he was trying to ensure that legislation wasn't going to cause him problems and wanted to work with anybody he could."
Dangerfield met Del. Clarence Davis in the hallway.
Davis, another Baltimore Democrat, said the landlord "felt aggrieved. He told me he bought all that property legitimately. In fact, he said some parcels were practically given to him."
When Dangerfield knocked on McFadden's office door, the senator said he had the story with Dangerfield's picture on his computer screen. "I pointed right to it and said, 'Look, there you are,' " McFadden said.
The East Baltimore senator, who plans to introduce similar legislation, said he offered Dangerfield assurances that no legislation would be drafted to target any one person.
"I told him this is not personal; it's a citywide problem," McFadden said, "and I hoped he would be cooperative in our effort, and if he was cooperating, then he had nothing to worry about."
The problems the city has had acquiring 40,000 abandoned properties in order to renew neighborhoods have not been limited to Dangerfield's houses.
But he owns houses on 25 east-side blocks that are slated for rehabilitation under a $35 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Unless the state's rigid property laws are changed, Henson has said, the city may be compelled to pay Dangerfield and other convicted felons for their properties.
Twice in recent weeks, Dangerfield has requested and then canceled appointments to meet with Michael Seipp, the head of a nonprofit urban renewal group on the east side.
"He's been running around, trying to convince people that he's had a hard life, that he's misunderstood and that he's a legitimate, self-made businessman who doesn't know why he's being persecuted and prosecuted," Seipp said.
"We can only hope that he wants to make some sort of civic-minded donation. But at the moment, we still don't know what he wants to talk about -- and time is running out."
Sun staff writers Thomas W. Waldron and Michael Dresser contributed to this article.
Pub Date: 2/28/99