Indictment of Md. power

The Baltimore Sun

Five years ago, Thomas L. Bromwell Sr. learned how deeply FBI agents had penetrated his inner circle.

James Eick, a Bromwell friend, had agreed to wear a recording device for federal agents. He was to capture any potentially incriminating conversations with the former Maryland state senator suspected of accepting illegal kickbacks while in office, according to prosecutors.

Then Eick secretly switched sides.

Eick warned Bromwell in November 2002 that he was wired, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen O. Gavin wrote in court papers. Eick's FBI handlers did not learn of the double cross until March 2005, according to prosecutors.

The newly revealed twist underscores the extraordinary challenges that federal authorities faced in assembling a corruption case against Bromwell, once among the state's most powerful politicians. The Baltimore County Democrat resigned in May 2002 to lead the Injured Workers' Insurance Fund.

Jury selection was to begin today in U.S. District Court in Baltimore for Bromwell, 58, and his wife, who face federal racketeering conspiracy charges. But District Judge J. Frederick Motz abruptly delayed the start of the trial yesterday, citing undisclosed "attorney conflict issues," and said jury selection will begin March 26.

Motz wrote that he intends to unseal Friday some of the secret documents that The Sun requested in a hearing last week.

Separately, a federal appeals court upheld yesterday Motz's earlier ruling that the government was entitled to seize assets from the Bromwells before their trial.

Federal charges

In a sweeping, 80-page indictment in October 2005, federal prosecutors accused Bromwell of accepting bribes from a local construction company executive in exchange for help in securing publicly funded contracts.

Mary Patricia Bromwell, 43, is accused of accepting a salary for a no-show job at a subcontractor controlled by the same construction company, Poole and Kent, in return for her husband's influence.

The Bromwells have denied the charges. If convicted, each could be sentenced to decades in prison.

At its core, the jury must decide whether Bromwell and his wife were paid off for helping a company run by a corrupt CEO who flouted a law designed to help minorities or, as defense attorneys argue, they were targeted unfairly for constituent service and deal-making on behalf of a legitimate local business.

The trial is expected to last at least two months and will showcase one of the larger public corruption investigations in recent state history. Motz, who will preside, is experienced with political corruption cases in Maryland. In 2000, he sentenced lobbyist Gerard E. Evans to 2 1/2 years in prison for fraud.

"He took advantage of a culture of corruption that has been tolerated by lobbyists, legislators and the citizens of Maryland," Motz said in the Evans case. "The evidence in this case has revealed that there is a mess in Annapolis."

Wide connections

Potential witnesses in the Bromwell case include a state legislator, one of the city's wealthiest developers and several former state Cabinet secretaries, court papers show.

Fifteen others who have been mentioned as potential witnesses have criminal records, prosecutors wrote, including a man charged with six counts of attempted murder.

New court filings provide further revelations about the prosecution's case, describing several former Poole and Kent employees as admitted liars, thieves and cheaters who tried to cover up misdeeds that benefited themselves and the Bromwells.

As prosecutors lay out their evidence in the complex racketeering case, other legislators could find themselves caught up in the scandal.

W. David Stoffregen, the former Poole and Kent president who was indicted with the Bromwells and pleaded guilty last year, told federal investigators that he gave "cash and other benefits to other elected officials," according to court documents submitted last week by prosecutors.

The documents do not name the politicians.

Stoffregen, who mingled often with politicians and power brokers, rose to become a well-known leader in the building trade and a substantial contributor to political campaigns.

His downfall was equally dramatic.

In court papers filed with his guilty plea in November, Stoffregen agreed to forfeit more than $5.6 million in illegal profits, including theft from his company. According to sentencing guidelines, Stoffregen faces a minimum of 6 1/2 years in prison.

Rocked by the scandal, the company separately agreed in June to pay Baltimore more than $800,000 in restitution, conceding that the company had used a sham minority-run firm to secure city contracts.

Poole and Kent also pledged to increase its contracts with minority- and female- owned firms by $1 million in three years. The plumbing and steam-fitting contractor has won multimillion- dollar state and local projects, including the Ravens football stadium and a major terminal expansion at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

According to court papers, Stoffregen acknowledged that he used a variety of ways to reward Bromwell, who he said acted as a behind-the-scenes deal-maker for the company.

The new documents show he had a lot of help.

Stoffregen told his staff to alter expense reports to remove references to Bromwell, court papers say. The former CEO also admitted telling employees to remove or destroy documents sought by company lawyers responding to government subpoenas.

The rewards for helping Stoffregen were substantial, prosecutors say.

One Poole and Kent worker's $18,000 car loan was paid off by the company, but he never reported it to the IRS, court records show. Others admitted receiving a Rolex watch and a new car engine after they helped Stoffregen sift through and destroy potentially damaging documents, according to prosecutors.

Among the most important aides was Michael C. Forti, Poole and Kent's former executive vice president.

Forti pleaded guilty to tax fraud shortly before the 33-count indictment was lodged against the Bromwells in October 2005. He admitted that he helped set up a female-owned subcontractor - actually controlled by Poole and Kent - to secure publicly funded projects that required minority participation.

Newly filed court papers show that Forti acknowledged that he participated in assaults connected to union activities in the 1970s. He was charged with six counts of attempted murder in 1974 but was never convicted, court records show.

Later, he acted as Stoffregen's right-hand man. Forti told authorities that they hatched schemes to enrich themselves and their friends. Sometimes their reach extended overseas.

Forti "gave cash to Mr. Stoffregen with the understanding that it was to be used to bribe foreign officials," Gavin wrote in court papers.

Ties to Bromwell

Stoffregen appeared to have had the closest contact with Bromwell, serving as the firm's point man to the longtime senator and powerful committee chairman. According to Stoffregen's account, he and Bromwell first worked together on a joint construction project in Russia in 1996.

Bromwell, who was elected as a Baltimore County delegate at age 28, rose to become chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee and friend to some of Annapolis' most influential lobbyists.

He resigned in 2002 to take a job as head of the quasi-public Injured Workers' Insurance Fund. He left that post late last year, receiving a $400,000 severance package, after the fund's board concluded that Bromwell would likely be distracted by his trial.

While serving in the General Assembly, Bromwell was hired in 1998 by Baltimore-based Network Technologies Group. Bromwell reported that the communication cable company hired him at a salary of up to $80,000 a year for a quality-control position.

"In truth and fact," according to the indictment, "T. Bromwell's only job responsibility at NTG was to exercise his influence and to use his contacts to provide NTG with access to influential business leaders."

Payments alleged

So helpful was Bromwell's influence that Stoffregen persuaded him to abandon his announced plans to retire from the Maryland Senate in 2000 and continue to work on Poole and Kent's behalf, according to the federal indictment. Bromwell is accused of receiving almost $200,000 in return, disguised as salary paid to his wife for a nonexistent job.

In 2000 and 2001, Stoffregen arranged for Poole and Kent to do more than $85,000 worth of work at Bromwell's new house in Baltimore County, with the expectation that the senator would not be billed for most of it, according to court papers.

Stoffregen later admitted that when federal agents began to investigate, he tried to cover his tracks by directing that a second, false invoice be prepared.

According to court papers, Stoffregen paid Bromwell $192,923 between January 2001 and May 2003. The payments were disguised as salary for the senator's wife, Mary Pat, for a no-show job at Namco Services Inc. Namco allegedly was a female-owned subcontractor eligible for millions of dollars worth of public projects.

'When was I hired?'

In court papers, prosecutors included a page from Mary Pat Bromwell's day planner as evidence that she knew nothing of the business. Under the headline "Gerri," someone had written: "When was I hired? How long did I work there? What jobs?"

In another entry, she apparently worried about the investigation swirling around them. "Grand jury? When will it hit? Will they talk to me? Attorney? House/phone bugged?"

Her attorney has said there is a lawful explanation for the entries but declined to provide details.

According to court papers, Stoffregen said the former senator used his influence to speed payments for Poole and Kent's work on the state Juvenile Justice Center in Baltimore. Those payments directly affected the size of Stoffregen's bonuses, according to court papers.

Winning contracts

Bromwell also is accused of helping Stoffregen and Poole and Kent win a multimillion-dollar contract over a competitor with a lower bid on work at the University of Maryland Medical System's Weinberg Building in Baltimore.

The court papers filed recently raise new questions about the actions of at least one official at the university medical system who might have helped Bromwell steer contracts to Poole and Kent.

Prosecutors did not include the name of the official or officials in earlier court papers. But newly filed documents mention Nelson J. Sabatini, who served under two governors as Maryland's secretary of health and later as a corporate vice president at the University of Maryland Medical System.

Court papers say Stoffregen acknowledged that anxious to get the job, he had contacted Bromwell and asked him to use his influence to steer the contract.

Bromwell, according to court papers, repeatedly contacted system officials and persuaded them to pick Poole and Kent in spite of the fact that another company was the low bidder.

In court papers filed last week, federal prosecutors revealed that they had interviewed Dr. Morton I. Rapoport, who was chief executive officer of the University of Maryland Medical System at the time of the contract.

"Dr. Rapoport has indicated that he did not get the sense that Nelson Sabatini was subject to any undue pressure from Thomas Bromwell in connection with the UMMS Phase III project," Gavin wrote.

Defense opening

In a potential opening for the defense, Stoffregen told prosecutors that Bromwell "never asked him for anything in exchange for his help" in securing the contract for the University of Maryland Medical System project, according to prosecutors' court filings.

Defense lawyers have long insisted that they could not see, without evidence of a quid pro quo, how Bromwell's actions would be any different from services traditionally - and legally - provided by elected officials.

"If the fact that a government official provided constituent services and later, for completely different reasons, received a donation or gift from that same constituent constituted a crime, then virtually every politician would be guilty of extortion," the lawyers wrote in a motion filed last year.

The Bromwells and their attorneys declined to be interviewed for this article.

Paid informant

While Poole and Kent was at the center of much of the indictment against the Bromwells, the investigation might have been aided greatly by another covert government informant.

According to court papers, Eick met Paul Matthews, a general contractor, in August 1999. Matthews' company did work for tenants at the Candler Building.

Eick helped Matthews during the construction project, court papers say. In return, Matthews gave him $1,000 in December 1999 as a Christmas gift and to thank him for referrals, prosecutors allege.

Court papers allege that Eick referred Bromwell to Matthews as a subcontractor. At the time, Bromwell owned Dallas Inc., a small construction company. After Bromwell got the subcontract, he gave Eick $1,500 as a thank-you, prosecutors say.

Prosecutors allege that one of the first tainted contracts involved Eick's office space in the Candler Building.

In summer 2000, the FBI enrolled Matthews as an informant. He was wearing a device in May 2001 to record a conversation that included Eick and Bromwell talking about kickbacks, court papers show.

New court papers show Matthews had a long, lucrative relationship with the FBI. In addition to receiving some $16,350 for his work in the Bromwell case, his work in another unnamed FBI investigation earned him an added $257,025, court papers show.

He also received an immunity deal, protecting him from any prosecution for bribing public officials, making illegal payments to labor unions, participating in insurance fraud and any role in an illegal bankruptcy scheme.

The Bromwells' lawyers have been fighting the admission of his tapes into evidence for months. Motz has yet to rule on the issue.

Eick pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud in November 2005.

"He was just a small tentacle," his attorney, Gerald C. Ruter, said at the time, "in a much larger octopus of a case against Bromwell."

matthew.dolan@baltsun.com

BROMWELL TIMELINE

Sept 3, 2003: Published reports appear that the FBI is investigating former state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell Sr. and his ties to Poole and Kent Co., a Baltimore contracting firm that participated in major state projects, including the city's football stadium and juvenile justice center.

Sept. 4, 2003: The Sun reports that Poole and Kent installed plumbing and ventilation systems in Bromwell's home.

Sept. 5, 2003: The Sun reports that a minority-owned subcontractor for Poole and Kent employed Bromwell's wife. Documents show that Namco Services Inc., where Mary Pat Bromwell was an employee in 2001-2002, was paid $580,000 for work on the juvenile justice center.

April 26, 2004: Poole and Kent is notified that it is the subject of a federal probe. A Securities and Exchange Commission report says subpoenas were issued for company records and others were requested from the General Assembly.

Sept. 6, 2005: Michael C. Forti, a former Poole and Kent executive, secretly pleads guilty to a scheme to obtain minority contracts worth nearly $5 million through his wife's company. He and his wife, Geraldine, also plead guilty to tax evasion for not reporting free labor they received from Poole and Kent employees who built them a waterfront home. According to court documents, W. David Stoffregen, Poole and Kent's former president and a Bromwell friend, used Namco as a front to keep Poole and Kent eligible for contracts requiring participation from minority- and female-owned businesses.

Oct. 19, 2005: In a 30-count indictment, the Bromwells and Stoffregen are charged with conspiracy, racketeering, mail fraud and extortion. The former senator is also charged with wire fraud, making a false statement to FBI agents and filing false tax returns.

June 20, 2006: Poole and Kent agrees to pay Baltimore more than $800,000 in restitution, conceding that it used a sham minority-run firm to secure municipal contracts. The city bars the company from seeking city contracts for four months. The company pledges to increase its use of minority- and female- owned firms by $1 million in three years, once it becomes eligible to bid on contracts again.

Sept. 8, 2006: U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz rejects Bromwell's request to throw out the FBI's search of his home, dismiss his indictment on corruption charges and postpone his trial.

Nov. 28, 2006: Stoffregen pleads guilty to racketeering conspiracy in U.S. District Court, acknowledging that he bribed Bromwell as part of a contract-rigging scheme. Stoffregen agrees to cooperate in the Bromwell case.

Dec. 27, 2006: The IWIF board announces that Bromwell is leaving as head of the quasi-public workers' compensation agency.

Yesterday: Motz postpones the start of the Bromwells' trial to March 26, citing undisclosed "attorney conflict issues" in the case.

The defendants

Thomas L. Bromwell Sr., a powerful former state senator who spent 23 years in the General Assembly. The Baltimore County Democrat was indicted in October 2005, accused of using his power and prestige to benefit a contracting firm in exchange for cash and discounted work on his home.

Mary Patricia Bromwell, his wife, was indicted by federal authorities for her role in an alleged scheme to place her in a no-show job that paid an $80,000 annual salary.

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