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Dixon friend pleads guilty

The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon's former campaign chairman pleaded guilty to charges of failing to file tax returns related to his work as a computer consultant for the City Council and has agreed to cooperate in the state prosecutor's probe into no-bid contracts at City Hall.

Dale G. Clark, a longtime Dixon staff member and friend, had provided computer services to City Hall over a six-year period, during which he worked mostly without a contract.

As part of a plea agreement with the state prosecutor, Clark was sentenced in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court to five years of probation and a $5,000 fine for failing to file tax returns from 2002 to 2004.

The guilty plea - related to work Clark performed while Dixon was the City Council president - comes less than two weeks after Dixon easily won the Democratic primary for mayor, overcoming ethical questions raised by her opponents. State prosecutors have not given any public indication that Dixon is involved in their investigation.

Deputy State Prosecutor Thomas M. McDonough said Clark failed to file tax returns for his computer company, Ultimate Network Integration, since 1998, and tried to substantially underreport his income from city contracts.

"These are serious offenses," McDonough told Judge William C. Mulford. "They continued over a period of time. Mr. Clark was very deceptive about what he had done and when he had done it."

McDonough declined to comment about the investigation into the City Hall bidding process, but the plea agreement in Clark's case states: "Defendant agrees that he will cooperate fully with [the] state by providing truthful and complete information concerning his duties and activities and those of other employees and contractors of which he has knowledge when as required, including, but not limited to providing truthful and complete testimony concerning his dealings with officials and employees of the City of Baltimore."

Clark has agreed to work with prosecutors in their investigation, said his attorney, James L. Wiggins.

"He's been as cooperative as possible. He's advised them of everything he knows."

Asked whether he anticipates Clark being called to testify in criminal proceedings against anyone at City Hall, Wiggins said, "That's up to the state prosecutor's office."

The state probe began in March 2006 after The Sun revealed that Clark's computer company 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 be approved by the city's five-member Board of Estimates, which Dixon chaired as council president.

Dixon's spokesman, Anthony McCarthy, would not respond to questions about the inquiry yesterday.

"The mayor's office has no comment on this matter," McCarthy said. "Dale Clark is a private citizen. This is between him and the state prosecutor."

Dixon's attorney, Dale P. Kelberman, is out of the country and was unavailable for comment.

Clark, 45, is the second City Hall contractor with ties to Dixon to be indicted on tax charges.

In December, Mildred E. Boyer, president of the technology company Utech, was indicted on charges of theft, lying on loan documents and filing false tax returns. Her trial is scheduled for this year. Utech had employed Dixon's sister and held a subcontract for city business.

Possible ethics lapses by Dixon were alleged after The Sun showed that Dixon had been an advocate for Utech during a council hearing held to question Comcast Cable executives about whether the company was fulfilling its minority subcontracting commitments.

Dixon also voted on contracts awarded to Utech, despite a rule prohibiting city officials from voting on matters that affect members of their families, but the city's Board of Ethics has decided not to take any action against Dixon.

For the computer contract, Clark began working on the council's computer system in 1996 after then-Councilwoman Dixon recommended him. His workload expanded after she became council president in late 1999.

Clark, 45, served as Dixon's campaign chairman from early 1996 to April 6, 2001. They have been friends since the 1980s and are both members of the city's Bethel AME Church.

In March 2000, the Board of Estimates awarded a 12-month contract worth $39,900 to Clark without seeking competitive bids. The board authorized an increase eight months later.

In 2001, upon questioning from The Sun, Dixon said she should not have given Clark's company the initial contract without seeking competitive bids and said that the situation would be rectified.

However, from when the contract ended in March 2001 until 2006, Clark's company had received $525,000 in work without a contract, according to city records. At one point, the contract was awarded to another company - yet Clark kept being paid, too, for a total of $84,000.

Dixon said last year that Clark's work was handled incorrectly, and she punished her chief of staff and another aide.

According to the statement of facts provided in court yesterday, Clark had claimed that his taxable income for 2002 was $7,044 - with a tax liability of $480 - and that his taxable income for 2003 and 2004 was $0. He later amended his returns for those years to reflect income of between $70,000 and $87,000 for each of those three years.

Yesterday, Clark's lawyer, Wiggins, said he thought his client would not have been subjected to criminal prosecution for his tax issues had he not been involved with City Hall.

"He provided services to the Baltimore City Council; no one has disputed this," Wiggins said. "There were some things said about the Baltimore City Council and the council president, who is now the mayor, that they may have in some way done something to give Mr. Clark [preferential treatment].

"In fact, the process that was used, no one has changed that process. If he was not part of this probe, he would have been treated like any other citizen of Maryland who had not paid their taxes," Wiggins said.

Meanwhile, members of the council defended Dixon yesterday.

City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake said she was "very sorry" to hear of Clark's situation. She said she did not anticipate a probe finding additional problems with no-bid contracts in City Hall.

"It hasn't been my experience since I've been president," said Blake, who became interim president in January and won the Democratic primary this month in her effort to secure a full four-year term. "Prior to me being president, I had very little interaction, very little oversight, on anything."

She said she did not have any concerns about Dixon being linked to a future probe. "I don't know enough about what's going to have concerns," she said.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said she welcomed a more intense investigation into no-bid contracts.

"It happened once and it may be happening in other places, and it's important for us to know," said Clarke. "It's possible other agencies are involved and people just don't realize it. It's important for us to understand that because we're spending people's money."

Clarke said she doubts Dixon would be implicated in anything. "I think that was one situation," she said of the Clark contract. "But I don't think there was a pattern there."

nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Sumathi Reddy contributed to this article.

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