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Politics

As Mosby defense fund website goes mostly blank, Baltimore City Council members explain stances on ethics concerns

A website established to collect money for the legal defense of Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby and State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby now is mostly blank following the release last week of a ruling from the Baltimore Board of Ethics outlining several alleged violations of the city’s ethics code by the council president.

The website, which currently reads “maintenance mode is on” and lacks links, previously promoted a fundraiser to assist with the political power couple’s legal bills.

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A former trustee for The Mosby 2021 Trust, a tax-exempt political organization associated with the legal defense fund, said the trust is in the process of being dissolved.

Robyn Murphy, the trustee for the fund when it was established, said Monday the process of dissolving the trust has been underway for some time. Murphy said she has since relinquished her duties as the trustee. The current trustee for the fund has not been named. Murphy said the person did not wish to speak publicly.

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According to the city’s Board of Ethics, the council president committed multiple violations of the city’s ethics law by indirectly soliciting and accepting donations from two city contractors via the legal defense fund.

Baltimore’s code of ethics bars city officials from soliciting and accepting money, directly or indirectly, from “controlled donors,” a category that includes city contractors and many others who do business with the city.

In the case of Nick Mosby, who presides over the City Council as well as the city’s Board of Estimates, controlled donors are considered anyone who seeks to do business with the City Council, the council president’s office, the Board of Estimates or any city governmental or quasi-governmental entity with which the council president is affiliated. Also included are subcontractors doing business with or seeking to do business with the above groups, and those who engage in activities regulated or controlled by those groups.

According to the Board of Ethics, the legal defense fund received $5,000, its largest individual contribution, in August from the “resident agent” for a contractor that is a city-certified minority- or woman-owned business. The business was a subcontractor on a deal considered by the city’s spending board in 2020, the board reported.

The fund also received a $100 donation from the executive director of a nonprofit organization that was awarded a multi-thousand dollar grant of federal funds by the city in March.

The Board of Ethics ordered Nick Mosby to instruct the fund’s organizers to return any money collected from controlled donors, cease fundraising activities and provide the Board of Ethics with a list of fund donors. The board gave him 30 days to comply with the order or face a penalty of $1,000 per day.

Nick Mosby has denied violating the ethics code and reiterated that defense Monday. The council president said he intends to comply with the orders from the ethics board, but said there is no money to return.

“There is no money to pay back,” he said. “There was never any money that was passed along.”

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“If you read through the 17 pages clearly, I had nothing to do with it, and at this point it’s just time to move on,” he said. “I’m going to comply with whatever stipulations that they’re asking me.”

On Saturday, six members of the Baltimore City Council sent a letter to Nick Mosby calling on him to comply with the order. The council members, who make up less than half the 15-member board, said the ethics board’s report made it “unmistakably clear” the council president violated the city’s ethics laws.

“We write to express to you our dismay at the ethics board’s findings in their investigation of the Mosby Trust, of which you are a beneficiary, and your financial disclosure,” states the City Council members’ letter.

The letter was signed by Councilmembers Kristerfer Burnett, Zeke Cohen, Ryan Dorsey, Phylicia Porter, Odette Ramos and James Torrence, a group that also co-authored an op-ed in The Baltimore Sun calling on Nick Mosby to apologize for a raucous meeting in Council chambers last month.

On Monday, several members of the City Council who opted not to sign the letter cited concerns with the letter’s timing and language. A draft letter was circulated to council members via email at 3:16 p.m. Friday by the six signing members, according to an email obtained by The Baltimore Sun. Any interested council members were asked to sign on by 5:15 p.m. that evening.

Councilman Mark Conway said Monday he had not yet read the 17-page report from the Board of Ethics on Friday afternoon and didn’t feel comfortable signing.

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“I had some initial concerns about the language, the sensitivity of the language,” Conway said. “I didn’t think it was the right action for me to take in the moment.”

Conway said he chose instead to speak directly to the council president.

“I told him it was imperative he take care of the situation,” Conway said. “It’s a distraction from the important work we’ve got to do. This is not going to be helpful toward anything.”

Conway said Nick Mosby told him he has complied with almost everything in the order, but one piece remains to be addressed, Conway recalled.

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“I told him, in so many words, ‘You believing you’ve met the requirements of that and the ethics commission believing so, that’s two different things,’” Conway said.

Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer said his decision not to sign came down to timing. The council members who coordinated the letter never spoke to him directly, he said. Schleifer said he did not see the letter until it was published in news reports Saturday.

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Schleifer, however, declined to comment on the allegations against Mosby.

Councilman John Bullock said he saw no need for the letter.

“From my perspective, the report seemed pretty straightforward in terms of what the council president needs to do,” Bullock said.

Bullock said he has not spoken to Mosby since the ethics ruling was released. Bullock said he gets the sense from the council members who did not sign the letter that they want to give the council president time to comply with the order.

“The decision lays out what needs to happen,” he said. “If that doesn’t happen, that’s something the council could look at.”


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