New U.S. attorney to have first big test

sun reporter

Prosecuting former state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell - charged last week with steering millions of dollars in building contracts to a single construction firm - could be the first major test for Maryland's new U.S. attorney.

Rod J. Rosenstein, who took the post as the state's top federal prosecutor last summer, proclaimed that terrorism would be his first priority. But his office of 70 attorneys also has been trying to regain its footing in public corruption cases since former U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio resigned in December.

Lawyers in and out of his office called for DiBiagio's ouster after he wrote a memo to his staff, pushing for three "front page" public corruption indictments by the fall election. Bromwell's attorney charged that last week's indictment is one of those three cases.

Now legal watchers wonder what lingering impact that memo will have on the case against Bromwell, once one of the most powerful figures in Annapolis.

"There is no question that if I'm on the defense team, I'm going to want the jury to question the motives of the prosecution," Professor Byron Warnken of the University of Baltimore School of Law said. "The cycle of cases is so long that they could say that this is one of the cases in the memo."

DiBiagio oversaw the successful prosecution of pension fund manager Nathan Chapman on stock fraud charges and gained notice for the conviction of Edward T. Norris, Baltimore's former police commissioner who pleaded guilty to conspiring to misuse a department fund.

When DiBiagio's controversial memo became public in the summer of 2004, the Department of Justice ordered that officials in Washington would need to approve any future public corruption indictments out of Maryland. DiBiagio's interim replacement dropped two corruption cases that DiBiagio had shepherded through the system.

Last week, a federal grand jury indicted Bromwell, a Democrat; his wife, Mary Pat; and W. David Stoffregen, the former president of Poole and Kent Co., a large plumbing and steam-fitting contractor based in Baltimore.

Yesterday, David M. Jackman, a project manager for Poole and Kent, was charged with making a false statement to the FBI about discounted work done by the company at Bromwell's Baltimore County home.

The case could provide a window into how large public and private construction projects in the Baltimore area can be fixed by politicians.

The Bromwells will make their first appearance in U.S. District Court in Baltimore on Monday, prosecutors announced yesterday. Two days later, Stoffregen is scheduled to appear in court.

According to the indictment, the Bromwells are accused of taking almost $300,000 from Stoffregen over five years in the form of discounted home construction work and a salary to Mary Pat Bromwell for a no-show job at Namco, a "front" company that posed as a female-owned subcontractor. It was really operated by Poole and Kent, prosecutors charge.

In return, according to the court papers, Thomas Bromwell intervened on behalf of Poole and Kent in contract negotiations for work at a state juvenile detention center and elsewhere, according to the indictment.

Bromwell is also accused of pressuring high-ranking officials at the University of Maryland Medical System to bypass the lowest bid on a job and award a $13 million contract to Poole and Kent.

The Bromwells and Stoffregen, through their attorneys, maintain their innocence.

So far, many officials in Annapolis have expressed sympathy for Bromwell, who also has the backing of his employer. He will be able to keep his job as president and chief executive officer of Maryland Injured Workers' Insurance Fund, the chairman of the board announced last week.

"We are confident that he is fully capable and ready to discharge his executive duties as the legal process takes its course. We believe in his innocence, and wish him complete success in his defense against these charges," said Daniel E. McKew, who oversees the state's largest workers' compensation insurance carrier, a quasi-public agency with $1.3 billion in assets and reserves.

Bromwell's salary, bonuses and car allowance make his post worth about $250,000 a year. The fund's board is appointed by the governor.

To pursue the former state senator, federal investigators cast a wide net, convening grand juries for years in an attempt to gather evidence against him.

In fact, Bromwell was indicted in July, but the indictment was not made public nor was it disclosed to his attorney. Court papers unsealed last week show that an original, secret, 22-page indictment returned this summer targeted only Thomas Bromwell, former chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Stoffregen.

Lawyers specializing in public corruption cases said they were surprised by the breadth of the superceding 80-page indictment unveiled last week, Rosenstein's first attempt to convict a public official.

They also expressed some concern that a jury might have difficulty understanding the intricacies of a conspiracy outlined under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

"I think they used RICO for its shock-and-awe value," said Steven A. Allen, a former assistant U.S. attorney who now practices white-collar criminal defense. A federal racketeering conviction, he said, can carry greater penalties than a case built simply on mail and wire fraud statutes.

Added former Maryland U.S. Attorney Herb Better: "I'm worried that, at first blush, the array of charges seems unnecessarily complex." That said, he continued, "The underlying facts in the case appeared to be quite detailed and fairly straightforward."

The charging document accuses Bromwell and Stoffregen of engaging in a relationship built on corruption and kickbacks, one that began with a joint construction project in Russia in 1996.

In 1998, Bromwell was hired by Baltimore-based Network Technologies Group. Bromwell reported that the communication cable company hired him at up to $80,000 a year for a quality-control position.

"In truth and fact, T. Bromwell's only job responsibility at NTG was to exercise his influence and to use his contacts to provide NTG with access to influential business leaders," the indictment said. By 2004, a federal judge sentenced NTG's chief executive and financial officers of the now-defunct company to prison for involvement in an accounting fraud that helped destroy the Baltimore telecommunications company.

According to the indictment against Bromwell, he also intervened in an unnamed $62 million hotel project in Harbor East in downtown Baltimore in February 1999. The contractor selected another company to do the mechanical work on the site with a bid $500,000 less than a competing offer made by Poole and Kent.

But after a meeting with Bromwell and others, the contractor removed the original company from the job and replaced it with Poole and Kent. The subcontract was supposed to be worth about $9.7 million. The project's developer, John Paterakis Sr., did not return a call for comment.

So great was Bromwell's influence that Stoffregen persuaded him to abandon his announced plans to retire from the Senate in 2000 and continue to work on Poole and Kent's behalf, the indictment said. Bromwell is accused of receiving in return almost $200,000 disguised as salary paid to his wife for a nonexistent position, the indictment says.

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