'Mo' Wyatt's power is wielded quietly

The Baltimore Sun

Caught by an FBI wiretap bragging at a booze-soaked steak dinner about his own political power, Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell Sr. reserved some of his highest praise for the man who was once the golden boy of Annapolis politics: Maurice R. "Mo" Wyatt.

"I love this [expletive] guy," said Bromwell, in his typically salty talk.

The patronage chief and legislative arm-twister for Gov. Marvin Mandel more than three decades ago, Wyatt was a key cog in what many in Annapolis still regard as the most effective gubernatorial administration the capital has seen, Mandel's mail fraud and racketeering convictions notwithstanding.

Today, despite Wyatt's own conviction in a 1980 bribery case, he is still a guy with "major juice," Bromwell said, according to FBI transcripts. And despite an abhorrence of publicity - "Number one, Maurice don't want to be in the limelight," Bromwell said - Wyatt finds himself in the crosshairs of a major federal corruption investigation that has already resulted in Bromwell's indictment and seven guilty pleas.

Wyatt, 64, did not respond to telephone calls placed to his Glen Burnie office. His secretary, after asking who was calling, said he was unavailable.

Described by Bromwell as a multimillionaire who prefers to operate in the shadows where big money and political power intersect, Wyatt makes his money these days as a real estate developer, a financier of bars and the president of a marketing and promotions company that boasts that it does business worldwide. And, according to Bromwell, as a facilitator: "This guy knows anybody and everybody you want to know. ... This guy is going to get you - you make money."

Among Wyatt's powerful friends, according to the transcripts, is John Paterakis, the H&S; Bakery magnate and developer of Harbor East. "He's very close ... with the bread man," said Bromwell.

Paterakis has not responded to calls for comment on the Bromwell tapes.

After then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer, quietly and without fanfare, granted Wyatt executive clemency in 1991 for his bribery conviction, Paterakis was one of nearly two dozen luminaries who wrote letters to the Maryland Court of Appeals, urging that his law license be restored. It finally was in 1996.

Another letter writer was former U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, who said she wrote "because I didn't think he was a bad guy. He's a nice guy. ... He's always been able, knew what to do, who to call and when to do it. He's very competent,"

Though Wyatt is seldom - if ever - seen in Annapolis these days, he remains a living link to a bygone era of politics in the capital stretching back four decades.

After Mandel became governor in 1969, succeeding Spiro T. Agnew following his election as vice president, Wyatt became a member of "a tight circle of aides to the former governor known as the 'Mandelniks,'" according to a 1993 profile in The Sun. "He was as much a legislative lobbyist as he was patronage chief," the article said.

"He was one of the administration's lobbyists known as 'The Corporation' for their legislative 'arm twisting' abilities in making sure 'what Marvin wants, Marvin gets,' as the expression went at the time."

Wyatt was still in his 20s at the time, barely out of the University of Baltimore Law School, but he had a political pedigree. His father, Joseph M. Wyatt, was Maryland's youngest state senator when he was first elected in 1934 at age 28. He served two four-year terms as Senate president and remained there until 1962.

While serving in Annapolis, the elder Wyatt was also a part-time Traffic Court magistrate and later was appointed chief magistrate of the court.

Young Maurice was 8 years old when he worked in his first election, and by 1953, was serving as a page in the U.S. House of Representatives. He then became an aide to three Democratic congressmen from Baltimore and managed U.S. Sen. Daniel B. Brewster's unsuccessful re-election campaign in 1968.

"Mo was one of the first appointments Marvin made. He had first met him during Hubert H. Humphrey's presidential campaign in 1968," said Frank A. DeFilippo, a former press secretary to Mandel who is now a political commentator and writer.

"He was one of the smoothest and most skillful political operatives I've ever met. He was very charming and witty and good company to be with," said DeFilippo who last saw Wyatt two months ago at Schaefer's 85th birthday party.

In a rare interview with The Washington Post in 1987, Wyatt said, "What I loved to do after we worked a bill, after all the lobbying, the patronage, the arguing, was to go up in the gallery and stand off to the side where no legislators could see me and just watch the votes light up on the tote board."

It was an era when Maryland was especially rife with corruption.

Agnew was forced to resign in disgrace in 1973 after pleading guilty to reduced charges of tax evasion and money laundering after prosecutors uncovered evidence that he had pocketed bribes while governor. In 1977, Mandel was found guilty on 17 counts of mail fraud and two counts of racketeering for allegedly accepting gifts and bribes from his five co-defendants to gain favorable legislation for extra racing dates at the Marlboro Racetrack in Prince George's County.

Mandel remained free between his conviction and appeal while Lt. Gov. Blair Lee III served nearly all of his remaining term as governor. Wyatt stayed on as chief of patronage for the acting governor.

Lee ran for the Democratic nomination for governor in 1978 and lost to former Transportation Secretary Harry R. Hughes, who was elected governor.

On Jan. 11, 1979, during the waning days of the Mandel-Lee administration, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the conviction of all six men and ordered a new trial.

Wyatt was waiting at the State House with former aides, including Michael Silver, when Mandel made his triumphal return.

Silver, who had been Mandel's deputy patronage secretary, waved a cigar and shouted a rallying cry to the adoring troops: "The muldoons are back!"

Long a fixture on the Maryland political scene, muldoons were loyal clubhouse foot soldiers who voted and did what they were told to do by political bosses.

Wyatt, overcome with the drama of the moment, said to a secretary, "Honey, you can keep your job. We're not going to fire you," wrote Bradford Jacobs, the former Evening Sun editorial page editor, in his 1984 book, Thimbleriggers.

In 1980, after leaving government, Wyatt was convicted of three counts of bribery for his role in a scheme to help land developers in the Gwynns Falls watershed, who were frustrated by a sewer moratorium that had been imposed six years earlier by state Health Secretary Dr. Neil Solomon.

"According to prosecutors, Wyatt participated in a scheme with the late Allen B. Spector, then a private attorney and city councilman who later was a district judge, and Donald H. Noren, then an assistant attorney general assigned to the health department," said a 1993 Sun profile of Wyatt.

The three agreed to share the $20,000 fee offered by developers to help them obtain an exception to the ban, and according to court documents, Wyatt's take was $5,650.

Wyatt, whose conviction was upheld on appeal, received a two-year suspended sentence, was fined $15,000, and given two years' probation. He was disbarred in 1982.

"At the time of the hearing on his disbarment in 1980, the majority of the judges on the Court of Appeals - including Chief Judge Robert C. Murphy - recused themselves because three of them had been appointed to the bench by Mr. Mandel, and one had served in his Cabinet," The Sun reported in 1993.

Tarred by political scandal and excluded from practicing law, Wyatt turned to business, where he found the same sort of success that he had in the political arena.

"He's subtle but driven and is capable of working 24 hours a day, seven days a week," DeFilippo said. "Mo is an entrepreneur and a chief executive officer who has his hands in many pies with many partners. If what I read in the paper is true, then he's been very successful."

One venture that attracted public notice came in 1993 when the Board of Public Works, of which Schaefer was a member, approved a $1.2 million noncompetitive purchase of 600 home-detention units for the state Division of Correction from Vorec Corp. of Millwood, N.Y.

Wyatt's company, Business Affairs Advisers Inc., was the exclusive sales agent for the home-detention devices in Maryland and in the southeastern United States.

His wife, Beverly A. Wyatt, was the owner of Consolidated Computer Investors Inc., based in Hanover, Anne Arundel County, that supplied computer equipment to Vorec, The Sun reported in 1993.

Corporate records list Wyatt as the current president of Nyberg Fletcher & White, a wholesale trade company that specializes in distributing promotional products - golf balls, T-shirts, coffee mugs - bearing corporate brands. He also gravitated to liquor-related businesses.

The Baltimore liquor board records list him as the resident agent for the company that owns the Gentleman's Gold Club, a strip club in the 5000 block of Pulaski Highway, previously run by his brother, Joseph M. Wyatt Jr., a former chairman of the liquor board and a former state delegate. Joseph M. Wyatt sold the business in 2004 to two women, one of whom is Diane Kozel, the vice president of Nyberg, Fletcher.

Earlier this year, another Nyberg officer, corporate secretary Diane Jones, took over the liquor license of the nearby Pulaski Liquor Emporium and Tavern. She said Wyatt had lent her $300,000 and described him as her "attorney and financial backer."

In the Bromwell tapes, the former senator also mentioned the bar business when describing Wyatt's financial prowess: "Now, now let me tell you he [Wyatt] owns a leasing company and I got a couple of interests, I got a couple of bars that I set guys up in. Three years ago, I had a guy who needed a quarter of a million dollars. I put it through his leasing company and he got major juice. I mean, major juice.

"You're not dealing with a guy that's looking to make twenty million, because he's got his twenty million," Bromwell continued. "Maurice does OK."

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

andy.green@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Lynn Anderson contributed to this article.

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