Baltimore County Councilman Kenneth N. Oliver was indicted yesterday on felony theft charges involving the personal use of campaign funds, the state prosecutor's office said.
Oliver, a 63-year-old Randallstown Democrat elected to the council in 2002, wrote two checks for $2,000, one to his wife and another to himself, from his campaign account, according to the indictment announced by State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh. If convicted of the two theft charges, Oliver could face 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000.
A Baltimore County grand jury also indicted Oliver on six counts alleging he violated other election laws requiring submission of receipts and keeping of separate account books for petty cash. The maximum penalty for those charges is one year in prison and fines of up to $25,000 for each violation.
After a council meeting last night, Oliver briefly addressed a group of reporters. "This is a difficult time for me and my family," he said, reading from a printed statement. "I can assure you that I have done nothing wrong. I am confident that I'll be found innocent when I have my day in court."
Oliver then thanked his family and friends for "their expressions of concern" and left the council chambers without answering questions.
One of his council colleagues, Kevin Kamenetz, said Oliver "has been very stoic" throughout the investigation into his finances. Nevertheless, Kamenetz said, Oliver is upset about the indictments.
"I've always reminded my colleagues of the importance of holding ourselves to the highest ethical standards," said Kamenetz, a lawyer. "That being said, Councilman Oliver is innocent until proven guilty."
If Oliver were to be convicted, he would be forced to give up his council seat, as required by the county charter. The council is powerless to vote him off the panel.
"The council has no role in the process," Kamenetz said. "It's strictly in the courts, which is where a decision like this should be made."
T. Bryan McIntire, the council's elder statesman and a former state's attorney in Carroll County, said, "I'm a lawyer, and I don't butt into other people's business."
In a letter last February to the State Board of Elections, Oliver said the money was a loan that had been repaid, and he apologized for his "poor choice in handling a family emergency." He said he was "unaware of the possibility of committing a campaign finance violation." He did not elaborate on the nature of the family emergency.
Oliver, a former head of the county planning board, is the first African-American to serve on the Baltimore County Council. He was re-elected to his seat, representing the Woodlawn and Randallstown areas, in 2006.
A commercial lender with an MBA in finance from Morgan State University, Oliver raised $18,300 during his 2006 campaign, according to state records.
A criminal summons has been issued but not served, and no court date has been set, the state prosecutor's office said.
Ryan O'Donnell, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, issued a statement: "At first glance, this indictment reflects a glaring lack of judgment. On second glance, it also reveals a shocking apathy toward the public trust that was originally placed in Councilman Oliver by his donors. While we need to reserve final judgment and let the councilman defend himself in court, there's no denying how bad this looks."
Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said he was "saddened by the news and will withhold judgment until the matter is resolved by the courts."
According to the indictment, Oliver admitted writing checks for his personal use in a letter to the board Feb. 7, a week after an article about the checks appeared in The Towson Times.
The first of the $2,000 checks was written by Oliver in November 2007, with a memo line that reads "loan repayment" and made payable to his wife, Thelma Oliver. The check was endorsed in the name of Thelma Oliver and deposited in Kenneth Oliver's personal bank account, according to the indictment. Thelma Oliver has not been charged.
Last January, Kenneth Oliver wrote another $2,000 check on the campaign committee's bank account, this time made payable to himself, according to the indictment. Oliver cashed the check that day, the indictment says.
The first loan was made six days after Oliver lost his job at the Harbor Bank, the Towson Times reported. Although Oliver reimbursed his campaign for the checks, the law considers it "misappropriation of funds and theft at the time of the taking," said Shelly Glenn, a senior assistant state prosecutor.