Common Cause of Maryland called yesterday for former state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell Sr., who is fighting public corruption charges, to be sidelined as head of a workers' compensation fund that insures 32,000 businesses in Maryland.
"We're not asking that he be fired," said Bobbie Walton, Common Cause's executive director, at a news conference in Annapolis. "When a teacher has been accused of abuse, we ask them to step aside until the trial."
The same principle, Walton said, should apply in the case of Bromwell, whose employer described him as a state employee. If Bromwell does not act, his board of directors should demand that he step aside, she said.
In October, Bromwell was charged in federal court with racketeering, mail fraud and extortion. He is accused of receiving discounted construction work on his home by a construction company he helped gain public and private contracts worth millions of dollars.
His wife, Mary Patricia, also received a no-show job through the same construction company, Poole and Kent, according to the indictment.
After leaving the Senate in 2002, Bromwell became the president and chief executive officer of Maryland Injured Workers' Insurance Fund, a quasi-public agency whose board is appointed by the governor and manages $1.3 billion in assets and reserves. The fund also serves as the third-party administrator for state employees with workers' compensation claims.
Robert B. Schulman, one of Bromwell's criminal defense attorneys, criticized the Common Cause announcement as a publicity ploy and "payback" for Bromwell's earlier criticism of the public watchdog organization.
The IWIF board, which announced its unanimous support for the former state senator shortly after Bromwell's indictment last fall, stood by him again yesterday.
IWIF "has just ended the most successful year in its history," said board Chairman Daniel E. McKew. "This company has had an incredible turnaround, and Tom Bromwell has been a huge part of it. Why would we want to change that now?"
McKew said the board explored what options it had regarding Bromwell's employment after federal prosecutors unveiled their 80-page indictment.
"He's considered a state employee, and there are certain procedures to follow. So he could have taken us before the state employment board and sued to be reinstated. There is really nothing we could do," McKew said.
But McKew also said that the board never considered firing or suspending Bromwell.
There is no state law or ethics code requiring that a public official lose his or her job when charged with a crime, said Maryland Assistant Attorney General Kathryn M. Rowe.
"There is a constitutional provision that elected officials lose their job when they're convicted," she said.
Bromwell, once one of the most powerful Democratic politicians in Annapolis, has pleaded not guilty to the federal charges, as have his wife and W. David Stoffregen, the former Poole and Kent president accused of bribing the Bromwells. Their trial is scheduled for early 2007.
If Bromwell lost his job at the insurance fund, it might have an impact on his ability to defend himself.
Federal prosecutors have frozen virtually all of the Bromwells' assets, an issue now under appeal. A similar move against co-defendant Stoffregen forced him to sue Poole and Kent, arguing that his employer should cover his legal costs.
When Stoffregen lost that court battle, his privately retained Washington attorney Barry Levine bowed out of the case, and Stoffregen was assigned a public defender, court records show.
Bromwell has a base salary of $192,868 at IWIF, agency officials said. Each year, his bonus is determined by the board and is based on his performance. His bonus in 2004 was $58,000, and he also receives an allowance to lease a car.
IWIF insures one-third of Maryland businesses and their employees, as well as 67,000 state and local government employees, against the cost of workplace injuries.
Common Cause officials also raised questions yesterday about why IWIF has made political campaign contributions during Bromwell's tenure.
McKew said he could not explain all of the contributions, which apparently violate an agency policy. In some cases, he said, the fund hoped to gain publicity by sponsoring a union's golf tournament and paying membership dues in a lawyer's organization.
McKew said yesterday that those donations were a mistake because they were categorized as political contributions.
McKew said he did not know why several other donations were made by IWIF, including $25 to the Bob Ehrlich for Maryland Committee and $380 to Friends of Mike Weir, both in 1999.