The state prosecutor's office has issued a fresh round of subpoenas seeking information about four development projects, the latest chapter in a long-running probe focused at least in part on gifts Mayor Sheila Dixon received from a developer who received tax breaks from the city.
The new requests mark the first public indication in weeks that State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh is still pursuing his investigation. Over the summer, the two-year probe heated up when Dixon's home was searched and high-profile developers testified before a Baltimore grand jury. But that panel lapsed without issuing any indictments, and a new grand jury was selected Sept. 8.
The subpoenas for the first time include a request for information about a stalled project to transform a vacant building near the Johns Hopkins medical complex into a 46,000-square-foot recreation and learning center.
Developer Ronald H. Lipscomb is involved with at least three of the four projects on the state prosecutor's list. Dixon, during her term as City Council president, received thousands of dollars in gifts from Lipscomb, including a $2,000 gift certificate at a local furrier, according to an affidavit filed earlier in the investigation. The mayor has acknowledged that she had a "personal relationship" with Lipscomb in late 2003 and 2004, and that the pair "traveled together and exchanged gifts," but she has denied that the relationship influenced any government decisions.
City officials are required to disclose gifts they receive from those doing business with the city. In the past seven years, Dixon has not listed any gifts from Lipscomb.
Last night, Dixon dismissed the latest round of subpoenas. "It is the same information they already have; obviously they want some extra reading material," she told reporters before a public safety meeting in Cherry Hill. "I'm moving forward."
Sterling Clifford, the mayor's spokesman, said the city is cooperating with prosecutors and pulling the requested information. Dixon attorneys Dale P. Kelberman and Arnold M. Weiner both declined to comment. Rohrbaugh was away from the office; Deputy State Prosecutor Thomas M. McDonough declined to comment.
Gerard P. Martin, Lipscomb's attorney, said he believes the state prosecutor "has his sights set on Mr. Lipscomb for some reason." He added: "I'm telling you that there is nothing to find."
In addition to the stalled recreation and learning center, the subpoenas seek information about projects at Spinnaker Bay, a completed apartment complex in Harbor East; the Railway Express Lofts, a newly completed apartment complex on St. Paul Street; and Hollander Ridge, a new business park on the site of a demolished public housing project in East Baltimore. Prosecutors issued the requests in the past 10 days to five city governing bodies.
The scope of the subpoenas was characterized as "fairly broad," according to two sources familiar with them. Subpoenas were issued to the Board of Estimates, the City Council, the city's Board of Finance, the Baltimore Development Corp. and the city Department of Housing and Community Development. Each has, in some way, dealt with one or more of those projects.
The new project on the state prosecutor's list is the planned community recreation and learning center at 2101 E. Biddle St. The city purchased that building in 2002, and no construction permits have been issued at that site, according to computerized records. In 2005, state Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, Del. Talmadge Branch and then-Del. Clarence Davis, all Baltimore Democrats, successfully introduced legislation to give the city $300,000 in bond funds to design and construct the new facility.
Lipscomb has clear ties with the other three developments. He's a business partner in the Hollander Ridge project, a partially constructed business park on a 50-acre site along Pulaski Highway near Interstate 95, said Mark Shapiro, another developer involved in the project.
The project is owned by Hollander Rock LLC - one of the 56 business entities that the state prosector's office named in a 2007 affidavit in support of a search warrant for the headquarters of Lipscomb's company, Doracon. The site used to be a public housing complex, and there was a fierce debate among City Council members in 2000 about whether it should be turned into low-income housing for seniors. That idea was scuttled in 2001.
Shapiro's group acquired the property from the city for $4 million in January 2006, and he said that a 90,000-square-foot warehouse has been constructed and partially leased. He said the project has not benefited from any tax credits or public money.
A third project of interest to the state prosecutors is the Railway Express Lofts, a $19 million apartment complex at 1501 St. Paul St., near Penn Station, that opened last year. Lipscomb was the general contractor on the project and has been involved with it since at least 2004. As council president, Dixon sat on the Board of Estimates, which in August 2004 approved a deal under which Railway Express LLC - controlled by a group of developers that includes Lipscomb - bought the property for $1.2 million.
Finally, the investigators want documents about the Spinnaker Bay apartment complex in Harbor East. Dixon and Lipscomb left for a trip to New York on the same day she voted on the Board of Estimates to approve a $13.6 million tax break for that project, according to the 2007 affidavit from the Doracon search. It was developed by a joint venture of H&S; Properties, Bozzuto Development and Lipscomb.
Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.