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|01-09-2009, 05:47 PM||#1|
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Baltimore Mayor Indicted On Theft & Perjury Charges
BALTIMORE – Mayor Sheila Dixon was indicted Friday on charges that she accepted illegal gifts during her time as mayor and City Council president, including travel, fur coats and gift cards intended for the poor that she allegedly used instead for a holiday shopping spree.
A grand jury indicted Dixon on 12 counts, including four counts of perjury and two counts of theft over $500. She was also charged with theft under $500, fraudulent misappropriation by a fiduciary and misconduct in office.
The State Prosecutor's Office, which has been investigating corruption at City Hall for nearly three years, said Dixon received holiday gift cards for four years from several people. Prosecutors said the gift cards were to be distributed to needy families, but were instead used by Dixon to buy electronics — including an Xbox, a PlayStation 2 and a camcorder — clothes and other merchandise and also handed out to members of her staff.
"I am being unfairly accused," Dixon said in a statement. "Time will prove that I have done nothing wrong, and I am confident that I will be found innocent of these charges."
Dixon said she would not step down. "I will not let these charges deter me from keeping Baltimore on the path that we have set, or from carrying forward the significant progress we have made thus far," she said.
Dixon, a 55-year-old Democrat, served on the City Council from 1987 through 2007 and as council president from 1999 through 2007. She became mayor in January 2007, finishing the term of Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley, and was easily elected to a full, four-year term later that year.
The state prosecutor's investigation began in March 2006, and has overshadowed her entire tenure as mayor. She has consistently denied wrongdoing, and while many political observers were concerned an indictment could come at any time, the mayor nonetheless earned praise for efficient management, shrewd hiring and a coolheaded response to crises.
The indictment against Dixon does not name Ronald H. Lipscomb, a prominent developer who briefly dated the mayor and who was indicted Wednesday on one charge of bribing a City Council member. However, previous court documents leave no doubt that Lipscomb is the "Developer A" mentioned in the indictment who showered the mayor with gifts and took several lavish trips with her in late 2003 and early 2004.
Both were married at the time, although they were separated from their spouses. Dixon has since divorced.
The indictment describes Dixon taking money from a developer that was used to buy expensive gifts — two fur coats and high-end skin products, for example — all while pampering herself with trips to New York City, Chicago and Colorado with stays at lavish hotels.
The documents describe an elaborate scheme by which Lipscomb paid for part of a shopping spree Dixon enjoyed during a stay in Chicago. At one point, Dixon gave $4,000 in cash to a city employee, who deposited it in his personal checking account and wrote a check to pay off part of Dixon's American Express bill, according to the indictment.
Dixon obtained the cash after Lipscomb cashed a corporate check worth $15,000 and the two exchanged several phone calls, the indictment says.
Dixon has never listed any gifts from Lipscomb on financial disclosure forms. At the time of Dixon and Lipscomb's affair, his company was involved in several projects that received tax breaks from the city.
Perhaps more damaging is the allegation that Dixon stole gift cards meant for the poor. For four years running, according to the indictment, Dixon received gift cards that were supposed to be distributed to needy families and either spent them herself or gave them to her staff.
The alleged scam continued through December 2007, Dixon's first holiday season as mayor. According to the indictment, a city employee gave the mayor gift cards from Toys R Us that were supposed to go to poor children. Dixon gave one gift card to a staffer, and investigators said they found five more at her home when they searched it last summer.
Dixon received a batch of Best Buy gift cards from Lipscomb's company in December 2004 and held onto some of them for a year before using them to buy CDs, DVDs and a video game at a Best Buy store downtown, according to the indictment.
In 2005, Dixon hit up another unidentified developer for gift cards that she said would be used for needy families. The developer paid for 20 Best Buy gift cards worth $25 each, and Dixon used 19 of them, or $450 worth, to buy a camcorder, a video game controller and other electronics, the indictment says.
Dixon's financial disclosure statements for the years in question do not mention that she received any gift cards.
O'Malley, who was mayor during most of the alleged wrongdoing by Dixon, had no comment Friday, said his spokesman, Rick Abbruzzese.
Associated Press writer Brian Witte in Annapolis, Md., contributed to this report.
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