Roman a clef a la Pica


It has all the elements of a classic legal thriller: dirty politicians, organized crime and -- naturally -- asbestos. John Pica Jr., a lawyer and lobbyist in the Peter Angelos firm, has written a book that turns on the infamous mineral fiber that made his boss a very rich man.

There's a Greek-American lawyer, Peter Manis, with a boatload of asbestos cases and more than a passing resemblance to Angelos. Pica says the character is loosely based on the O's owner. (I suspect he's using the term "loosely" loosely, because as Pica outlined the plot for me the other day, he kept referring to Manis as Angelos.) The hero of Echo Beach is a young Italian-American lawyer, Frank Roman, who likes to sail. Pica, 54, used to be a young lawyer and still likes to sail.

Cue CliffsNotes: Crooked Maryland politicians try to put an amendment in a conference committee report to kill thousands of asbestos lawsuits and enrich themselves through a convoluted insurance-options scheme. The story destroys the "myth that lawyers are running the country" and highlights "corporate America's disdain for workers," Pica said.

"I've read all that Grisham stuff," Pica said, dismissing that lawyer-turned-novelist's plots as "too theatrical."

Ten years after he started writing the book, Pica is looking for an editor and thinking Hollywood -- no matter that the former state senator is still mulling a run for Baltimore mayor.

"This is a movie. There's no question about it," Pica said. "This is headed for the big screen."

Only 58th? We can do better if we work up a sweat

Baltimore shows up on another one of those top cities lists, the kind the tourism industry doesn't trumpet. Baltimore ranked 58th on the Top 100 Sweatiest Cities in America list, brought to us by -- who else? -- Old Spice.

"In less than three hours, the residents of [No. 1-ranked] Phoenix collectively produce enough sweat to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool," a company press release says. Now there's a source of civic pride.

Jay Gooch, the former University of Maryland toxicologist who makes his living these days as Old Spice's "sweat expert," tells me the rankings were based strictly on a city's heat, not humidity. Nor do they take electric rates into account.

But what if Gov. Robert Ehrlich vetoes the rate bill passed this week, BGE bills go through the roof, and the average Baltimorean gets priced out of air conditioning? Surely that should count for something in the sweat rankings -- and further complicate political calculus in Annapolis. It's something for The Guv to consider: a veto might make his nemesis' city No. 1.

Phillips moves from mute to celebratory

Phillips Foods, whose CEO refused to talk to the hometown paper for its big series on crabs, seems to have gotten over its aversion to the press. The company just sent a Sun reporter a big bag full of spices, cocktail and tartar sauces, spiced peanuts, a pound of coffee beans and something that looked like a chocolate bar but smelled like Old Bay. The stuff came with an invitation to an event today marking the company's 50th anniversary. If a reporter shows up, it won't because of Phillips' payola. The goodies went to charity.

A second joins chase for the money

The restaurateur celebrated in The Sun recently for tackling a guy later charged with robbing a bank now stands accused of stealing the limelight. But Serafino's owner Joe Mannarelli says his accuser is just attempting a stick-up of his own, for reward money.

Greg Ghine, a home improvement contractor, claims that he helped stop the man fleeing the Provident Bank branch in Ellicott City last week. Ghine says he saw the suspect running, with Mannarelli giving chase and calling 911 on his cell phone.

"He was coming right at me, so I started running right at him," Ghine tells The Sun's Larry Carson. "I chased, and he ran back toward Joe. I thought Joe was going to jump him, and I saw him [Joe] stall. He didn't jump, so I went ahead and pushed him down."

But after that, Ghine says, "I just kind of walked away. Joe came up and grabbed his hands. You could hear the [police] sirens. I didn't want to get wrapped up in it. I was late for picking up my daughter. I called my wife, and she called the police station. I told her not to call. I didn't want to get in trouble for hurting that guy."

(Police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn confirms that Ghine's wife called the station.)

So why come forward now? Ghine says he's not looking for any reward, but his wife figures he's entitled to half. "It wasn't really a big deal until we found out there would be a reward for the guy," he says.

Mannarelli also says he's not interested in any reward. But he contends Ghine simply wasn't there.

"I didn't see anybody else," he says.

There's only one other guy who can sort this thing out: the one charged with robbing the bank, Luvine A. Summers Jr., of Reisterstown.

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