Opening a criminal trial yesterday, a federal prosecutor accused two Baltimore County brothers who operate a well-known demolition company of illegally funneling $4,000 to Rep. Elijah E. Cummings' 1996 campaign in the belief that his support for replacing old public housing units would boost their business.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen O. Gavin contended that J. Mark and Douglas K. Loizeaux circumvented federal campaign laws against corporate donations by having employees at Controlled Demolition Inc. of Phoenix, in Baltimore County, write personal checks to Cummings' campaign, then reimbursing them.
"This is a case about two powerful businessmen - two businessmen who decided to use employees of their own company to funnel corporate money to a federal campaign," Gavin said.
Defense attorneys countered that the brothers are political novices who did nothing wrong when they asked top-level employees to consider backing Cummings' tight first race for Congress.
The brothers, along with their company, each were charged this year in U.S. District Court in Baltimore with causing Cummings' 1996 campaign committee to provide false reports to the Federal Election Commission, a felony. They were not charged directly with violating campaign laws.
Cummings does not face any charges, although defense attorneys yesterday included him on a list of possible witnesses. Federal prosecutors have said he was not a target of the investigation.
Yesterday, defense attorneys acknowledged that the brothers decided to support Cummings because they thought his urban renewal plans could ultimately help their business, as the government moved to raze aging public housing. Prosecutors did not present any evidence that Cummings has influenced their government work.
Defense attorneys acknowledged the brothers asked employees to back Cummings, but said they never forced them to donate. They said the $1,000 checks those employees later received were simply bonuses they were due.