A humbled and contrite Thomas L. Bromwell, who exercised extraordinary political power during almost a quarter-century in elected office, was sentenced yesterday to seven years in prison, ending a public corruption investigation that exposed how a local construction-firm executive spent years bribing the former state senator.
Near the end of the two-hour sentencing hearing in the cavernous ceremonial courtroom at U.S. District Court in downtown Baltimore, the 58-year-old Baltimore County Democrat stood up and gripped the lectern.
Bromwell, ruddy-faced and dressed in a dark, double-breasted suit, first apologized for his own crimes to Judge J. Frederick Motz, who once decried a "culture of corruption" in Annapolis.
But Bromwell, the Perry Hall native and the father of a current state delegate, said he rose not to save himself.
He wanted the court to spare his spouse.
"I am guilty of getting my wife into this situation," Bromwell said as a gallery of more than 100 spectators watched in silence. "I'm the one who kept her in. ... My wife's involvement is clearly on my shoulders. I will never be able to forgive myself for what I have done to my wife and my children and my friends."
In July, Bromwell and his wife pleaded guilty to a complex criminal conspiracy in which the senator agreed to stay in office to help steer publicly funded contracts to Poole and Kent, a Baltimore-based construction company.
The Parkville couple in return reaped thousands of dollars worth of building materials for their seven-bedroom home and almost $200,000 in bogus salary for a no-show job from a contractor controlled by Poole and Kent.
The man who spent 23 years in the General Assembly "hung a for-sale sign out on himself," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen O. Gavin, calling for an eight-year prison sentence. She reminded the judge that secret FBI informants recorded Bromwell calling himself a "whore in the Senate."
But Bromwell's emotional eloquence apparently paid off.
Motz said he had been prepared to impose a heftier sentence for Mary Patricia Bromwell. Instead, in apparent response to the former senator's remarks, the federal judge handed down a prison term of one year and a day.
"The acceptance of their guilt is an important thing," Motz said. The judge added that he long suspected that the former senator had roped his wife into his scheme, calling her the "less dominant partner" in the couple.
In the end, Motz's sentence for Mary Pat Bromwell was significantly below the recommended sentencing guidelines of 2 1/2 to three years behind bars. The guidelines for the former senator called for a prison sentence of at least 6 1/2 years.
The reduced prison term still crushed the 44-year-old mother, who wept at the news of her incarceration. William B. Purpura, the attorney for Mary Pat Bromwell, had argued that she deserved no more than probation or home confinement, because of her two young children at home and because she played a minimal role in the conspiracy.
When the Bromwells will report to prison remains an open question. Motz set Jan. 7 as their report date but indicated he would be willing to consider allowing the former senator to begin his time behind bars after the completion of his wife's sentence. Because her one-year sentence includes an extra day, Mary Pat Bromwell will be eligible for "good time" credit that could shave two months off her prison stay.
Thomas Bromwell's lawyer requested that the former senator be placed in a prison with an alcohol-rehabilitation program.
Bromwell began his political career as a state delegate at age 28 and developed a reputation for being socially conservative with a streak of economic populism. He became a gregarious chairman of the Senate Finance Committee - which made him attractive to lobbyists - and one of the state's most powerful politicians, who tried but failed to become Senate president. He resigned from elected office in 2002 to head Maryland's largest insurance fund for injured workers.
In Annapolis yesterday, several legislators expressed empathy for what Bromwell's lawyer, Barry J. Pollack, called the "most public of public falls from grace."
"He was a hero to many in Baltimore," Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said. "He never embarrassed the General Assembly. I hope that he and his family can find some peace. It's been seven years of hell. I hope they can cope with the situation as best as they possibly can."
The federal judge who sentenced Bromwell yesterday said there was "much to respect and admire" about Bromwell's legislative and constituent work, noting about 60 letters received from his supporters. Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, who chairs the Finance Committee, once overseen by Bromwell, agreed, saying the ex-politician ran the Finance Committee well.
"I guess the only positive thing out of it is that it's over," Middleton said. "My heart really bleeds for the family. ... I just wish that this will pass, that things will come back together for the family, and life will go on. My thoughts and prayers are with them."
Yesterday's sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court in Baltimore begins to wrap up a long federal racketeering case filed in October 2005, which became one of the state's largest public corruption investigations. For years, Bromwell denied any wrongdoing, and his lawyers called the probe politically motivated.
In his plea, Bromwell admitted helping Poole and Kent and W. David Stoffregen, the company's convicted ex-president, 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 also helped Poole and Kent receive expedited monthly payments for work performed on the Juvenile Justice Center in Baltimore, a project saddled with cost overruns.
Among the benefits the Bromwells received in return were $192,923 paid to Mary Pat Bromwell for the no-show job. The payments were disguised as salary through Namco Services Inc., ostensibly a female-owned subcontractor eligible for millions of dollars in publicly financed projects. In reality, prosecutors said, Namco was a sham company whose contracts were controlled by Poole and Kent.
The gold mine for prosecutors might have been the secretly recorded FBI tapes in which Bromwell used crude language to belittle fellow politicians and boast of his ability to make lucrative deals happen. Dozens of people, including politicians, sent letters to the court to try to persuade the judge to go easy on Bromwell. But prosecutors said the former senator's loyalists were blind to his true nature.
"The investigation has resulted in the convictions of nine defendants for a corruption scheme that affected millions of dollars of state government contracts," Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said. "This case should send a powerful message that government officials who betray the public trust will be held accountable."
In the state capital, Del. Emmett C. Burns, Jr., a Baltimore County Democrat and Baptist minister, recalled Bromwell as "a tough guy who exhibited an enormous amount of power," saying that his downfall should be seen as a cautionary tale.
"All of us have to be careful for what we get and how we get it, because eyes are always upon us, and the boomerang comes back and hits us if we are not very careful," Burns said.
Sun reporters Brad Olson and James Drew in Annapolis contributed to this article.
For previous stories on the public corruption case, go to baltimoresun.com/bromwell.