The Maryland state prosecutor charged Mayor Sheila Dixon's former campaign chairman yesterday with failing to file state income tax returns for three of the six years in which he earned $500,000 working without a contract as the Baltimore City Council's computer consultant.
The misdemeanor charges come less than two weeks before the Sept. 11 Democratic primary and are providing Dixon's challengers fodder to remind voters of contract controversies that dogged the former council president last year.
Maryland State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh's office charged Dale G. Clark with failure to file state income tax returns in 2002, 2003 and 2004. The maximum penalty for each count is five years in jail and a $10,000 fine - though probation, fines and community service are most likely. No arraignment date has been set.
Clark, 45, was Dixon's campaign chairman from early 1996 to April 6, 2001. They have been friends since the 1980s.
Dixon said last year that Clark's work was handled incorrectly and punished her chief of staff and a deputy after The Sun detailed his dealings with the city. Yesterday, Dixon again stated regret for the way the computer contract was handled. But she also expressed sympathy for Clark, a fellow parishioner at Bethel AME church.
"It's unfortunate that this has happened to Dale Clark, especially with so much tragedy in his life," Dixon said, referring to the deaths of his father and brother this year. "Our prayers go out to him and his family."
Dixon's attorney, Dale P. Kelberman, responded to the charges by saying that they do not indicate that Rohrbaugh, after an investigation lasting nearly a year and a half, has turned up fraudulent activity related to Dixon.
"She didn't have anything to do with [Clark's] taxes," Kelberman said. "He's not charged with defrauding the city in any way. Whatever bureaucratic errors occurred had nothing to do with fraud on the taxpayers."
Yet Dixon yesterday made further comments that raised questions about whether prosecutors are investigating her official actions in relation to Clark and to another city computer contractor, Utech, that employed Dixon's sister.
In March 2006 state prosecutors issued subpoenas that produced nearly 27,000 pages of documents from the council's records office, Comcast Cable and other companies and several other city agencies, including phone and e-mail records from Dixon's office. None of the subpoenas named a target.
"I can't explain it because you know it is still under investigation and my attorney has informed me not to talk about it. I would love to," Dixon said yesterday.
Kelberman said the mayor meant that trials of Clark and Utech's owner, Mildred E. Boyer, were still pending, not that Dixon herself was a target.
Clark was charged in a criminal information, which in some cases indicates a defendant is cooperative.
The timing of the charges and Dixon's comments come as she has declined to answer questions - raised by her chief rival, Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. - that she fosters a "pay-to-play" environment in City Hall.
During a televised mayoral debate that aired on WBAL-TV and MPT Monday, a moderator asked Dixon about no-bid contracts issued by her council president's office. She answered by saying the debate was an inappropriate venue to discuss the issue.
"I'm not going to get into that because the truth of it is there was no money spent on no-bid contracts," she said.
Her opponents call the answer evasive and political observers say they believe voters may begin to notice, especially in the last two weeks before the primary when people pay more attention.
"This revives questions that were raised about the ethical status of Mayor Dixon when she was City Council president," said Johns Hopkins University political scientist Matthew Crenson. "I think people, having heard Mayor Dixon during the televised debate saying she didn't want to get into it. ... I think a lot of people now want a fuller explanation."
Such questions about Dixon largely subsided as the mayoral race began this year, but have recently come to the surface again.
"The interim mayor needs to start answering some questions and stop misleading the public," Mitchell said yesterday. "The bottom line is that the interim mayor has not been forthright and whatever has transpired is one step away from her."
The state probe began in March 2006 after The Sun revealed that Clark's computer company, Ultimate Network Integration, had been paid nearly $600,000 over six years, mostly without a contract. The Sun also revealed that Dixon's chief of staff, Beatrice Tripps, in a 2001 e-mail exchange with Clark, discussed a plan to keep payments under $5,000.
City contracts of more than $5,000 must obtain the approval of the city's five-member Board of Estimates, which Dixon chaired as council president.
At the same time, The Sun showed that Dixon had advocated for a company, Utech, that employed her sister, during a council hearing held to question Comcast Cable executives. Dixon and other council members held the hearing to determine if Comcast was fulfilling its minority subcontracting commitments associated with its cable franchise awarded by the city.
Utech was one of the minority subcontractors that Dixon asked about. The company was a minority subcontractor certified by the city's minority business office. It also held a subcontract with City Hall's technology provider, TeleCommunications Systems Inc.
The city's ethics law prohibits public officials from participating in "any matter" that involves a sibling's interest or the interest of a relative's employer. It says public officials must recuse themselves from participating in such matters if they have knowledge of their relative's position.
Dixon said she knew her sister worked for Utech but that she had disclosed the employment, as required by the city's ethics law. But she had not disclosed the job until after The Sun's articles were published.
She also said she had abstained from voting on Board of Estimates contracts awarded to Utech. Records showed she voted several times on Utech business.
The Board of Ethics did not take any action against Dixon.
In December, a Maryland grand jury convened by state prosecutors indicted Utech's owner, Boyer, on charges of theft, lying on loan documents and filing false tax returns. Her trial is scheduled for later this year.
In previous bids for the council's computer contract, Clark's company had listed Utech as a minority subcontractor. But Clark has previously said Utech never performed any work for him under his arrangement with the council president's office, which also once employed Dixon's sister - a violation of ethics law that led to her firing in 2003.
Clark started working on the council's computer system in 1996 after then-Councilwoman Dixon recommended him for the work. His work expanded once she became president in December 1999.
The Board of Estimates awarded a 12-month contract worth $39,900 in March 2000 to Clark without seeking competitive bids. The board authorized an increase eight months later.
In 2001, when questioned by The Sun, Dixon said she should not have given Clark's company the initial contract without seeking competitive bids and that she would rectify the situation.
Since March 2001, when the contract ended, the company had received $525,000 in work without a contract, according to city records.
Between March 2001 and May 2005, the city put the work out to bid five times. City officials rejected all bids for technical reasons in the first four bidding sessions.
In May 2005 the board awarded the contract to Early Morning Software. Yet Clark was kept on the payroll, doing the same work until Feb. 28, 2006, when The Sun first questioned his employment. Between May and his departure, the city paid Clark $84,000.
Clark did not respond to a message left on his cell phone yesterday.
Clark said in an interview last year that he was confident he did nothing wrong but that such investigations can often "take on a life of their own."
"It takes a toll on you and your family and friends," he told The Sun last year.
Sun reporter Annie Linskey contributed to this article.
Dale G. Clark timeline
February: City Council President Dixon signs contract with friend and campaign chairman Dale G. Clark to manage council computers.
March 8: Board of Estimates, which Dixon chairs, signs off on deal.
March: Clark contract lapses; he continues working.
April 12: In response to Sun article, Dixon calls Clark's no-bid contract wrong, says she should have sought other bids. Clark's work continues without a new contract.
March 27: Board of Estimates receives five bids for council's computer contract, including from Clark's company, Ultimate Network Integration.
May 1 to May 29: Board authorizes talks with one bidder, Snell Enterprises of Columbia; rejects all other bids. Board rejects Snell's proposal because cost exceeds council's budget. Dixon abstains both times.
No bids sought; Clark continues.
Jan. 21: Board, with Dixon absent, receives five bids, including from Clark's firm and Early Morning Software (EMS).
March 17: Board rejects all bids because purchasing officials say solicitation had a defect and needs to be re-advertised.
May 26: Board allows city officials to consider three new proposals, including from Clark's firm and EMS.
July 21: Board rejects all bids after city officials say they are not in city's best interest. Clark continues to work.
May 25: Board, with Dixon absent, awards council's computer contract to EMS despite Clark's formal protest.
No one mentions that Clark will continue working for transition reasons.
Dec. 31: Purchasing director terminates EMS' council contract; IT chief says Dixon's office wanted his agency to support council computers, which it does for less money. Clark continues to work.
January to March: Clark continues without a contract; halts work Feb. 28 at the same time Sun questions his job.
March 13: State prosecutor subpoenas documents detailing Clark's work.
Yesterday: Prosecutor charges Clark with three counts of failing to file state income tax returns in 2002, 2003 and 2004.[Source: Baltimore Department of Finance, Baltimore Comptroller's Office, State Prosecutor's Office.]