No surprise that the prosecutor who's been dogging Sheila Dixon for years thinks she's corrupt. The real shocker, if her indictment is to be believed, is that Sheila Dixon thinks Sheila Dixon is corrupt.
Dixon might have looked dirty to most of us for allegedly taking lavish gifts from a developer and giving him big city tax breaks, but I'd always imagined that her conscience was clear.
Blind to conflicts of interest? You bet.
Conscious of them? Self-conscious about them? No way.
Yet the indictment describes someone who knows she's got something to hide, the sort who ought to be indicted on Richard Nixon's birthday, as she was Friday. It has Dixon passing 40 $100 bills to a city employee inside a car and asking him to launder the cash so it could be used to pay her credit card bill. If the prosecutor's got that right, then I must admit I had Dixon wrong.
She'd acknowledged that she'd had a relationship with developer Ron Lipscomb and that they'd "exchanged" gifts. The City Charter forbids public servants from taking gifts from people doing business with the city, but Dixon claimed they were tokens of affection, not bribes.
Common Cause might not have bought it. But I always figured that Dixon had convinced herself that all's fair in love and city contracting.
Even some of the most sensational details that trickled out last summer, in a search warrant affidavit filed by prosecutors, seemed to bolster Dixon's dating defense.
The affidavit claimed that in March 2004, Dixon and Lipscomb flew out to Chicago, where in a single day, they managed to drop more than $7,000 at Armani, Saks Fifth Avenue, Coach and Niketown. Overshadowed by all the titillating designer details was this: Lipscomb didn't foot the whole bill. At least that's how it looked in the affidavit.
He bought the plane tickets, at $1,518 apiece, the affidavit said. But she picked up the $1,695 hotel bill. Lipscomb whipped out his credit card at some stores. But the $570 Jimmy Choo sandals from Saks, the $600 spent at Coach, the $4,410 dropped at Giorgio Armani - all that went on Dixon's own American Express.
So they were going dutch, right? A boyfriend and girlfriend shopping together, but separately. They were in another state, and in another state of mind, one completely divorced from their roles back in Baltimore as granter and recipient of municipal largess.
Anyway, that's how I figured Dixon saw it. How that churchgoing woman who wears her faith on her mink sleeve could hold her head so high.
And then Friday's indictment lands. And in it, the prosecutor's account of what happens when Dixon's AmEx bill lands.
About three weeks after that Chicago weekend getaway, Dixon receives her credit card statement, the indictment states.
Outstanding balance: $16,207.57.
Minimum payment due: $7,514.
Value of being friendly with a wealthy developer: Priceless, if the prosecutor is right.
Right around that time, one of Lipscomb's employees cashed a $15,000 corporate check and gave the cash to Lipscomb, the indictment states.
Days later, someone - the indictment doesn't say who - made a $6,000 cash deposit at an ATM into Dixon's checking account.
Fortuitous, but not quite enough to make that AmEx minimum.
But a few weeks after that, as Dixon was being driven from her home, she handed $4,000 in cash to one of her staffers, identified only as "Baltimore City employee #1," the indictment states.
She asked the employee to deposit the money into his personal bank account, then write a personal $4,000 check to American Express to pay the balance of her bill, which he did, the indictment alleges.
They say love is blind. So's justice.
But if the indictment's right, Dixon's eyes were wide open.
He expects to prevail
Before attorney Arnold Weiner had the mayor of Baltimore for a client, he had Oprah, Maya Angelou and a racehorse named Codex.
And he'd rated a mention in a Laura Lippman mystery, as his Web site proudly notes.
"You want I should call the chief of the state police, or Arnold Weiner even?" Lippman writes in Butchers Hill.
Weiner also is the father of WBAL weekend anchor Deborah Weiner, who won't be doing any reporting on the biggest story in town, news director Michelle Butt assured me. The station disclosed the family connection on the air Friday.
"She comes in the house, we stop talking about these things," Arnold Weiner said. "Her husband, [Barry Gogel], practices with me. He really makes her crazy by not telling her anything."
Weiner wasn't talking Dixon with me either, but he was willing to chat yesterday about some of his previous clients.
Except Oprah. He acknowledged having done some legal work for the talk queen, a close friend of his wife, Arleen, who was a WJZ producer back when Oprah was with us.
"We're all friends," was all he'd say, lumping former WJZ reporter Richard Sher and wife Annabelle in there, too.
Last year in federal court in New York, Weiner represented Angelou.
"A guy who claimed to have been her agent sued her and claimed she'd defrauded him," he said. "It was a completely bogus case, and we were able to prevail."
How'd the poet happen to call him? Mutual friend in Chicago?
Weiner wasn't saying.
Weiner also represented Codex, the 1980 Preakness winner whose jockey was accused of hitting Genuine Risk on the final turn. Good news for Dixon: He prevailed there, too.