Former state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell Sr., the ex-tavern owner who became one of Annapolis' most prominent politicians, agreed yesterday to plead guilty to accepting payoffs from a Baltimore construction company executive in return for securing publicly funded contracts, defense lawyers said.
The result of weeks of negotiations, the plea agreement came almost two years after federal prosecutors hit the Baltimore County Democrat and his wife, Mary Patricia, with an 80-page federal racketeering indictment in October 2005.
Bromwell was accused of using his political power to help Baltimore-based Poole and Kent in exchange for more than $200,000 in cash, bogus salary and discounted home-improvement materials.
As part of the plea deal his lawyer negotiated with prosecutors, Bromwell, 58, admits assisting Poole and Kent and its president, W. David Stoffregen, win a multimillion-dollar contract over a competitor with a lower bid for work at the University of Maryland Medical System's Weinberg Building in Baltimore.
"He has made mistakes, and he has owned up to them," said attorney Barry J. Pollack.
Mary Patricia Bromwell, 44, signed a separate plea agreement that could lead to her avoiding jail, according to her attorney.
The Bromwells are scheduled to return to federal court in downtown Baltimore on Tuesday morning to enter their guilty pleas, their lawyers said.
Both agreements still must be accepted by U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz. If the judge follows recommended guidelines, Bromwell will receive a prison term of 6 1/2 years to about eight years for a guilty plea to racketeering conspiracy and tax evasion, according to Pollack. He said Bromwell will be able to argue for a prison term below the recommended guidelines at sentencing.
The plea agreement appears to bring to a close one of the largest public corruption investigations in recent Maryland history. Seven other defendants in the case earlier pleaded guilty.
Notably, and somewhat unexpectedly, Bromwell's agreement does not require him to provide any details to authorities about other possible crimes that might implicate public officials. Bromwell's original attorneys told The Sun more than two years ago that prosecutors indicated they would accept a guilty plea from the former senator only if he in turn provided incriminating information about other officials.
Had the case gone to trial, prosecutors were expected to air excerpts from secret FBI tapes in which Bromwell used crude language to lambaste fellow politicians and boast of his ability to make lucrative deals happen.
Potential witnesses included a state legislator, one of the city's wealthiest developers and several former state Cabinet secretaries, court papers show.
Reaching the plea agreement largely hinged on whether Bromwell's wife would have to serve time behind bars and whether the couple would have to forfeit their beloved Parkville home to the government, according to William B. Purpura, Mary Patricia Bromwell's attorney.
The agreement holds the former senator at least partly responsible for $2.1 million in illegal profits and kickbacks from the scheme with Stoffregen, attorneys said.
In the end, defense lawyers said, the Bromwells agreed to hand over the house, where Poole and Kent did construction work valued at more than $85,000. The labor and materials were provided by Stoffregen free or at a reduced cost, according to his guilty plea agreement.
Mary Patricia Bromwell agreed to plead guilty to a single count of mail fraud, said her lawyer. While she could receive as much as 2 1/2 years under recommended sentencing guidelines, Purpura said her role was minimal and he believes probation is the appropriate punishment.
"That has always been the objective," Pupura said, adding that his client hopes to be able to stay out of prison and care for the couple's two young children.
She was accused of accepting a salary for a no-show job at a contractor controlled by Poole and Kent in return for her husband's intervention in contract talks.
Accepting guilty pleas would avoid an expensive and complicated months-long trial that carried the chance that a jury might acquit the couple. Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein declined to comment about the case yesterday.
Bromwell began his political career as a state delegate at age 28. He eventually became chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and one of the state's most powerful politicians. He even kept a large measure of his political clout after he tried, but failed, to overthrow his one-time ally, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.
He was known for his throwback ways and his open practice of soliciting from well-heeled lobbyists gifts when it was still permitted. Colleagues called him bawdy, and he once described himself as "gaudy."
Resigning from public office in May 2002, Bromwell accepted a top post with the Injured Workers' Insurance Fund, a quasi-public agency that is Maryland's largest insurance fund for injured employees.
Roughly sketched out in court papers, the prosecution's case would have tried to expose the intersection of two powerful worlds: the booming construction industry in Baltimore and state politics in Annapolis.
According to Stoffregen's account, he and Bromwell first worked together on a joint construction project in Russia more than a decade ago.
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, the federal indictment charged.
In 2000 and 2001, Stoffregen arranged for Poole and Kent to 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. The home, 4,628 square feet, is currently assessed at $737,250, state property records show.
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.
The former head of Poole and Kent also 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.
Under federal sentencing guidelines, Stoffregen, who pleaded guilty in November, faces a minimum of 6 1/2 years in prison at sentencing.
The bombshell in the case came this March when Motz, the presiding judge, decided to release once-sealed transcripts of secret FBI tapes made of Bromwell.
During a rollicking 2001 dinner at Ruth's Chris Steak House in downtown Baltimore, Bromwell outlined on the tapes his ties to the city's movers and shakers, including H&S; Bakery magnate and Harbor East developer John Paterakis and Maurice Wyatt, a former appointments secretary to Gov. Marvin Mandel, who was later convicted of bribery before being pardoned.
In recent years, despite the mountain of evidence against him, Bromwell remained supported by friends in high places.
For more than a year after his indictment, he retained his job atop the insurance fund. And until this spring - and only because his term expired - he continued to sit on the board of directors of First Mariner Bancorp. overseen by Edwin F. Hale Sr.
When his funds ran low, Bromwell, a famously prodigious fundraiser, watched from afar as hundreds of his supporters gathered again at Canton's Bay Cafe to pony up cash for his legal defense fund.
Attorneys said the couple was relieved that their legal ordeal was coming to an end.
"Our hope is that we can get it resolved, get it behind him and not forgot all of the good work he did on behalf of the residents of the state of Maryland," Pollack said.
For previous articles on the public corruption case, go to baltimoresun.com/bromwell.
WHAT THE BROMWELLS FACE
THOMAS L. BROMWELL SR.
If his expected plea is accepted by a federal judge, Bromwell (right) anticipates a prison term between 6 1/2 and 8 years under federal sentencing guidelines for racketeering conspiracy and tax evasion, according to his lawyer.
Bromwell's attorney said that the former senator will still be able to argue for a prison term below the recommended guidelines at sentencing.
MARY PATRICIA BROMWELL
While Bromwell's wife (left) could receive as much as 2 1/2 years under recommended sen- tencing guidelines, her attorney said he will argue that the appropriate punishment is probation.
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 Patricia 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..
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.
March 16, 2007: About a week before jury selection was set to begin, a federal judge delays the start of the Bromwells' trial until the fall, pointing to "irreconcilable conflicts of interest" among the couple's attorneys.
March 20, 2007: Motz, responding to a motion by The Sun, unseals the most explosive evidence in the Bromwell investigation: hundreds of pages of transcribed secret recordings of the former senator taped by an undercover FBI agent and a cooperating informant. In the tapes, Bromwell boasts of wielding his political power to influence some of Maryland's most prominent institutions in order to benefit himself and his friends.
March 29, 2007: The Bromwells receive new, court-appointed attorneys because of the couple's shaky finances.
Yesterday: The Bromwells sign plea agreements with prosecutors and plan to return to court Tuesday to present the agreements to the judge.