Businessman admits illegally funneling cash to Cummings' campaign


Baltimore demolition expert Pless B. Jones Sr. admitted yesterday that he illegally funneled money to Rep. Elijah E. Cummings' first House race by asking family and employees to make campaign contributions, then reimbursing them with company money.

Jones, who was charged last year in a 15-count felony indictment, pleaded guilty in federal court to a single misdemeanor charge of violating federal election law.

His plea brings to an apparent close the campaign finance investigation that led to three cases involving donations to Cummings' 1996 campaign.

Cummings not a target

Prosecutors have said Cummings was not a target of the investigation.

Jones, 52, faces up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine at sentencing Jan. 24. His business, P&J; Contracting Co., also pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge and could be fined up to $200,000.

Jones, who was suspended from pursuing government contracts after being indicted last December, could have been permanently barred from government work if he or his company were convicted on the felony charge of making false statements to the Federal Election Commission.

"We're very happy it was resolved as a misdemeanor charge," defense attorney David B. Irwin of Baltimore said outside court yesterday. Jones declined to comment.

Employees were conduits

According to a statement of facts filed yesterday by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen O. Gavin, Jones and his company contributed $16,000 to the Cummings for Congress campaign between Jan. 24, 1996 and Nov. 2, 1998, by using employees and others as conduits for the donations.

Jones made several donations of $1,000 each through his daughter, the company controller and employees, court records indicate. They later were reimbursed with company funds, court documents say.

The campaign finance investigation led to two other cases where prosecutors alleged the same scheme was used to help finance Cummings' first House campaign in 1996. The results for federal prosecutors were mixed.

Sentence is probation

Randallstown businessman Walter Wallace E. Hill Jr. pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor election law violation and was sentenced in September to a year's probation and ordered to pay a $2,000 fine for steering $10,000 in campaign donations through phony donors.

ECS, the Baltimore computer company where Hill had been vice president, also pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor campaign finance charge and was fined $2,500.

In September, a federal jury acquitted Baltimore County businessmen J. Mark and Douglas K. Loizeaux and their company, Controlled Demolition Inc., on charges that they caused Cummings' campaign treasurer in 1996 to file false campaign reports by steering donations through "straw donors."

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