On Friday, January 9, 2009, the Baltimore City grand jury issued a 31-page, 12-count indictment against Mayor Sheila Dixon.  There were four counts of perjury, three counts of theft, three counts of fraudulent misappropriate by fiduciary, and two counts of misconduct in office.  The investigation began about three years ago by the United States Attorney for the District of Maryland, who is the federal prosecutor.  That investigation did not result in criminal charges.  The Mayor was then investigated by State Prosecutor Robert Rohrbaugh, Esq., and that investigation resulted in an indictment on the last day of the 18-month grand jury.

One component of the State Prosecutor’s case is perjury, which is a misdemeanor, subject to a ten-year penalty for each of the four counts.  Under the Baltimore City ethics law, the Mayor and other officials must file, under penalty of perjury, an ethics form, which includes disclosure of all gifts received from individuals doing business with the City.  The allegation is that Mayor Dixon received gifts from Ronald Lipscomb, with whom she had a romantic relationship from 2003 to 2004.  Lipscomb is a developer who conducted business with the City.  Mayor Dixon failed to disclose gifts received from him, such as furs and trips. 

Ronald Lipscomb and City Councilperson Helen Holton were indicted two days earlier for bribery, with the State Prosecutor alleging that Lipscomb received favorable legislation in return for paying $12,500 for an election survey.  After that indictment, it was speculated that, if the Mayor were to be indicted, it too would include bribery, but it did not.

Mayor Dixon was also indicted for theft and fraudulent misappropriation by fiduciary.  Because the amount alleged to have been stolen exceeded $500, the theft counts are felonies, subject to a 15-year penalty for each of the three counts.  Fraudulent misappropriation by fiduciary is a misdemeanor subject to a five-year penalty for each of the three counts.  The indictment alleges that, for four years, at Christmas time, Mayor Dixon asked Lipscomb (and another developer) to purchase gift cards issued by merchants, and to provide them to the Mayor, so that she could give them to needy families. 

The indictment alleges that the gift cards were used by the Mayor to purchase items for herself, her family, and her staff.  The indictment alleges that (1) the cards were gifts and should have been disclosed (part of the perjury counts); (2) the Mayor deceived Lipscomb into believing that she would use the cards for the needy, yet she converted them to herself, her family, and her staff.; or (3) the Mayor came into lawful possession of the cards, but them breached her fiduciary duty by diverting the cards to herself, her family, and her staff.

Finally, because Mayor Dixon is a public official, all of the alleged conduct, if committed, also constitutes the common law misdemeanor of misconduct in office, which is subject to any penalty that is not cruel and unusual.  If she were to be convicted on all counts, she could face a prison term in excess of 100 years.  Being realistic, if she were convicted on any or all of these offenses, Mayor Dixon would probably receive a sentence ranging from probation to five years imprisonment.

Mayor  Dixon is represented by Arnold Weiner, Esq., and Dale Kelberman, Esq., two of the most well respected white collar criminal defense attorneys in Baltimore.  At a press conference following the indictment, the following was clear.  Mayor Dixon intends to vigorously fight these charges and does not plan to step down as Mayor during this litigation.

On the perjury charges, her defense team plans to argue that (1) Mayor Dixon had no legal duty to disclose; (2) the law is ambiguous as to when the Mayor has to disclose, and she believed that she did not have to disclose; (3) the City Ethics Board failed to maintain the list of those individuals whose contractual relationship with the City triggered the duty to report gifts, and, thus, she did not know that she had to disclose, if, in fact, she did have to disclose; and (4) Mayor Dixon did not willfully give a false statement, and her ethics form, if erroneous, was the result of confusion or honest mistake, and she did not know that her disclosure form was false, if indeed it was false.

Regarding theft and fraudulent misappropriation by fiduciary, the Mayor’s defense team plans to argue that she stole nothing from anyone, and that she used one gift certificate for a staff member whose house was in foreclosure and who was financially desperate.  Regarding misconduct in office, her defense team plans to argue that she committed no misconduct.

The State Prosecutor’s response to the defense position will likely be the following:  Mayor Dixon (1) certainly knew that (a) she received lavish gifts from her former boyfriend, (b) her former boyfriend was a developer who did significant business with Baltimore City, and (c) she was required to disclose the gifts that her former boyfriend gave her; (2) misappropriated for own benefit gift cards that were intended for the needy of Baltimore City; and (3) took advantage of her public office and acted corruptly, instead of exercising official discretion.

Because Mayor Dixon has been charged with one or more felonies and charged by grand jury indictment, her case will be heard in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City.  The Mayor will surely elect a jury trial, meaning that her fate will be determined by 12 members of the community and not by a judge.  In about one month, the Mayor will have a first appearance in Circuit court.  At that time, she will enter a plea, which she has already indicated will be “not guilty.” 

The Mayor’s first appearance in Circuit Court will trigger the dates for subsequent events.  Within a month of so, the State will have to provide certain discovery materials to the defense, and the defense will have to file certain motions, if it plans to file such motions.  For example, Mr. Weiner already stated that he will file a motion to dismiss all charges.  In Maryland, once the first appearance in Circuit Court takes place, the trial must commence no later than 180 days thereafter, unless the trial is postponed for good cause shown.  This will be a high profile case.  Both sides will advocate zealously.  We should get a verdict by summer or fall 2009.

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