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2 views of bribery figure

The Baltimore Sun

He is, according to his lawyer, the man who brought down one of the state's most politically powerful figures.

The inside information W. David Stoffregen provided to federal investigators about former state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell Sr. "did more than simply break the logjam. It helped to clear the forest so the citizens of Maryland can move on and rebuild their faith in their elected officials," defense attorney Jeffrey E. Risberg wrote in federal court papers filed recently.

The 100-page filing for Stoffregen's defense sets up a contentious sentencing hearing tomorrow in U.S. District Court in Baltimore for the former construction company executive who admitted he bribed Bromwell with almost $200,000 in discounted work at Bromwell's Parkville home and a no-show-job salary for the ex-senator's wife.

The Baltimore County Democrat was sentenced earlier this month to serve seven years in federal prison after pleading guilty to racketeering conspiracy charges. His wife, Mary Patricia, received a prison term of one year and a day for her role in the criminal conspiracy.

To his attorney and supporters who wrote more than a dozen letters on his behalf, Stoffregen emerges as a flawed but repentant man who has learned from his crimes and has become an active community volunteer and vocational teacher.

"When David explained his legal situation, I was shocked," wrote Chesapeake Habitat for Humanity's Larry Grubb, who is expected to testify on Stoffregen's behalf today. "I could not believe David would knowingly hurt or take unfair advantage of anyone in any way. Whatever happened in the past, the man I know today is giving, caring and helpful to everyone around him."

But to the government, the 54-year-old divorced father from Towson remains a troubling figure. Stoffregen illegally undercut his competition by calling in political favors, lined his pockets by stealing from his company and roped his subordinates into his illicit schemes, government attorneys contend.

Prosecutors insist Stoffregen, the former president of the mechanical contracting firm Poole and Kent, should serve at least of 6 1/2 years in prison, the minimum required under federal recommended sentencing guidelines. Stoffregen pleaded guilty about one year ago to racketeering conspiracy, mail fraud and filing a false tax return.

"Certainly Stoffregen's minority contracting fraud scheme, obstruction of justice, looting of P&K; and his false tax filings militate against any downward variance from the guidelines range," Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kathleen O. Gavin and Michael J. Leotta wrote to U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz.

Still, Stoffregen's attorney said in court papers filed last week that his client deserved a break with a sentence of three years in prison.

"This is a historic case in this district. Its resolution, without a trial, is unusual. Mr. Stoffregen's extraordinary cooperation helped bring closure to a case that might have required a long, divisive trial and appeal, clouded by allegations that the United States Attorney brought the prosecution for political gain," Risberg wrote.

At least one element of Stoffregen's cooperation remains hidden from public view. Stoffregen told federal investigators that he gave "cash and other benefits to other elected officials," according to court documents submitted earlier this year by prosecutors.

The documents do not name the politicians and prosecutors have declined to release additional information.

It was well-known that Stoffregen became a leader in the building trade and a substantial contributor to political campaigns.

Public campaign records show he gave $300 to Bromwell's campaign committee in 2000, $400 to then-City Council President Sheila Dixon between 1999 and 2004, $600 to state Sen. Joan Carter Conway between 1999 and 2001, $500 to state Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden in 2000, $250 to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller in 1999, and $1,250 to then-Mayor Martin O'Malley from 2003 to 2004.

In court papers filed with his guilty plea about a year ago, Stoffregen agreed to forfeit more than $5.6 million in illegal profits, including from theft from his company. Rocked by the scandal, Poole and Kent agreed separately in June to pay Baltimore more than $800,000 in restitution, conceding that the company had used a sham minority-run firm to secure city contracts.

According to court papers, Stoffregen acknowledged that he used a variety of means to reward Bromwell, who he said acted as a behind-the-scenes deal maker for the company.

His employees at Poole and Kent reaped rewards for their assistance, but several also faced criminal charges, accused of aiding and abetting their boss.

"Stoffregen directed practically every other participant in the corruption scheme: some by command, others by persuasion, and others by bribery," prosecutors wrote last week.

According to Stoffregen's account, his relationship with Bromwell started during a joint construction project in Russia in 1996.

Bromwell, who was elected as a Baltimore County delegate at age 28, rose to become chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee and friend to some of Annapolis' most influential lobbyists.

He resigned in 2002 to take a job as head of the quasi-public Injured Workers' Insurance Fund. He left that post late last year, receiving a $400,000 severance package, after the fund's board concluded that Bromwell would likely be distracted by his trial.

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, according to the federal indictment against the men that was unsealed in October 2005.

In 2000 and 2001, Stoffregen arranged for Poole and Kent to do more than $85,000 worth of 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.

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.

But to his supporters, Stoffregen will never be far from the up-by-his-bootstraps son of a plumber from Northeast Baltimore and graduate of Polytechnic Institute. In 30 years, he rose from apprentice to president and CEO at Poole and Kent before his downfall.

"He did so through sheer hard work, determination, and his practical and interpersonal skills," Risberg wrote. "His downfall was the result of his own hubris."

Prosecutors acknowledge that Stoffregen's cooperation helped ensure the Bromwells' pleas, but offer a more skeptical view of his change of heart and nine months of recent community service for Habitat.

"Stoffregen's post-conviction good works, which were likely motivated by an effort to make a good impression at sentencing, do not ameliorate his years of crime motivated by avarice," Gavin and Leotta wrote.


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