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Norris pleads not guilty


Former Maryland State Police Superintendent Edward T. Norris pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court yesterday to federal charges that he illegally spent about $20,000 in Baltimore police funds when he was the city's top officer to cover personal gifts, meals, trips and extramarital romantic liaisons.

Norris, holding his wife's hand in front of the Baltimore courthouse, told reporters after his hearing that he looked "forward very much to my day in court."

"I just want to thank all the people who made it possible during the last 24 years for me to lead the police departments and protect the citizens in New York City, Baltimore City and the state of Maryland," said Norris, 43. "Right now, my wife and I are leaving [the courthouse] to figure out what we're going to do next."

Norris' former city chief of staff, John Stendrini, also pleaded innocent to charges of illegally spending money from an off-the-books expense account and of obstructing justice. He is accused of lying to a city official about how the fund was used.

Stendrini's attorney, Michael Schatzow, said his client had done nothing wrong and accused prosecutors of making "unprofessional, improper and inaccurate remarks" about the investigation during a news conference announcing the indictment Wednesday.

Stendrini "will try this case in the courtroom, where he looks forward to vindication and the return of his good name and reputation," Schatzow said. "He is not guilty of the charges pending against him."

Norris, who lives in Baltimore, and Stendrini, 60, who lives in New York, were in federal court yesterday for their initial appearances and arraignments on charges of conspiring to misapply funds and misapplying funds from a discretionary police fund while Norris was city commissioner.

Prosecutors alleged in the indictment that Norris and Stendrini used the fund to finance romantic encounters with at least six women.

Norris was indicted on an additional count of lying on a mortgage application three years ago when he bought a Mount Washington home. If convicted, Norris could face 45 years in prison and Stendrini could face as many as 25 years.

Wearing a dark suit and polka-dot tie, Norris walked confidently into a seventh-floor courtroom for his hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan K. Gauvey. He was accompanied by a phalanx of lawyers, as well as his wife and father.

During most of the 20-minute hearing, Norris stood with his hands folded in front of him and answered each of Gauvey's questions about whether he understood the indictment and his constitutional rights with a crisp "yes, your honor."

Prosecutors asked Gauvey to order Norris and Stendrini to turn over their passports and firearms as a condition of their release. But she denied those requests, simply telling the two men to notify court officials if they planned to leave the country. Gauvey then released them on their own recognizance.

As he left the courtroom, Norris gave a reporter a thumbs-up sign and said he felt "fine" before hustling down a hallway. He and Stendrini were later fingerprinted and photographed.

Speaking to reporters afterward, Norris said he officially tendered his resignation as state police superintendent yesterday, a day after he orally told Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. that he was going to step down.

"With regret, I tendered my resignation today as superintendent of the Maryland State Police because that fine organization needs somebody who is not distracted by legal issues," he said.

After giving his brief statement, Norris and his wife strode away from the courthouse, trailed by television camera crews and photographers.

In a 23-page indictment unsealed Wednesday, Norris and Stendrini were accused of using the off-the-books Baltimore police fund to finance thousands of dollars in personal meals, gifts and trips.

Norris was charged with buying himself clothes, including a $371.61 leather jacket, stocking his house with alcohol, and making frequent trips to shop and conduct other personal business in New York.

He often stayed in luxury hotels and dined at expensive restaurants, according to the indictment, and engaged in romantic encounters with women during those excursions. The women were not identified in the indictment.

According to the indictment, Norris bought gifts for three women at Victoria's Secret the day before Valentine's Day in 2001. He also left a policing conference in October 2001 to visit New York for a romantic encounter, staying at the trendy W New York hotel. That excursion cost the city more than $1,400, the indictment alleged.

Leaving that same conference, Stendrini visited a bed-and-breakfast near Niagara Falls in Canada for a romantic encounter, the indictment alleged. He spent $1,428 during the trip, the indictment states.

Stendrini, a former deputy inspector for the New York Police Department, came to Baltimore in 2000 with Norris, who had risen to deputy commissioner of the New York force's operations. As Norris' chief of staff, Stendrini acted as the commissioner's closest confidant and helped his friend make critical decisions.

The fund's existence was exposed in August last year by The Sun, and city officials ordered an outside audit of the account. The city later deducted $7,663 in personal and questionable expenses from Norris' $137,000 severance package when he left the force last December to join the state police.

U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio said his office began investigating Norris and Stendrini in January after receiving a tip from a whistleblower.

Yesterday, Norris' attorney, Andrew Jay Graham, added two experienced defense lawyers to his legal team - David B. Irwin and Joseph Murtha, who succeeded in derailing the prosecution of Linda R. Tripp on state wiretapping charges in Howard County three years ago.

Tripp was accused of breaking Maryland law when she secretly recorded Monica Lewinsky's conversations about her relationship with former President Bill Clinton, leading to his impeachment.

Graham said the lawyers would aggressively defend Norris on several fronts.

"We're going to attack the indictment both on the law and its constitutionality ... and we're going to attack the facts because many of the facts are just completely wrong," Graham said. "It's very easy to make scandalous allegations against anybody, but that is a world apart from offering competent evidence of criminal wrongdoing."

Declining to address any of the specific allegations in the indictment, Graham added that the fund at the center of the case had no restrictions on its use.

"You will hear in the final analysis that all these expenditures were appropriate and appropriately related to police business," Graham said, adding that other commissioners had also used the fund.

Receipts and records reviewed by The Sun last year showed that former police leaders kept detailed receipts, unlike Norris and his aides, and spent money on items almost entirely tied to police work, morale and charity, such as sponsoring departmental sports teams and youth athletic leagues.

Meanwhile yesterday, U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett set a June 28 trial date in the case, in part to see what happens with an appeal pending before the Supreme Court that will test the law under which federal prosecutors charged Stendrini and Norris, their attorneys said.

That law allows U.S. prosecutors to pursue local public corruption investigations if the inquiry is linked to a government agency that receives at least $10,000 in federal money. Prosecutors do not have to prove any connection between the alleged offenses and the federal money.

Critics say the law goes too far, and the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in March in the appeal of a Minnesota bribery case brought under the statute. The justices are expected to issue a decision by the end of June.

Sun staff writer Gail Gibson contributed to this article.

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