BALTIMORE — A former state senator who was one of the most powerful officials in Maryland and widely known as a talented politician with a brash edge, pleaded guilty yesterday in federal court to taking bribes while in office.
Thomas L. Bromwell, a Democrat, pleaded guilty in federal court to racketeering conspiracy and filing a false tax return before U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz in Baltimore. He will face 6½ to 8 years in prison. His wife, Mary Patricia Bromwell, 44, also pleaded guilty to her role in the scheme. She could get 2½ to 3 years in prison on a mail-fraud count.
Bromwell's decision to plead guilty followed an FBI investigation lasting six years. He was indicted in October 2005, along with his wife and W. David Stoffregen, who was the president of Poole and Kent Co., a Baltimore-based mechanical-contracting firm.
Bromwell's influence-peddling was considered so valuable to Stoffregen that the businessman offered him $80,000 a year to put off retiring as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein said Bromwell, 58, engaged "in a pattern of corruption and fraud that extended over several years," that resulted in "millions of dollars in contracts being tainted by fraud."
"These were serious crimes of fraud and corruption, crimes that deserved to be prosecuted in federal court, crimes that people deserved to go to prison for," Mr. Rosenstein said.
Bromwell, who was known for his flamboyant personality as he presided over a powerful legislative committee that dealt with banking and financial institutions and economic and community development, left the courthouse quietly with the strain of the long investigation apparent.
"I will be all right," he told reporters while walking away from the courthouse with his wife. "I'm ready to start living instead of dying."
Judge Motz set a Nov. 16 sentencing date for both Bromwells.
Under their plea agreements, the Bromwells will forfeit more than $2 million in cash and property, including their Baltimore County residence.
Because of Bromwell's prominence in the Maryland General Assembly, the case has grabbed headlines for years, but it became even more prominent in March after an unsealed transcript showed the senator at a Baltimore steakhouse in 2001 in highly bombastic form.
Trying to impress a stranger he believed to be a businessman but who was actually an FBI informant, Bromwell let it all hang out. Profanity-laced stories, a racial slur about the Rev. Al Sharpton, crass comments about the Rev. Jesse Jackson and former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend poured from Bromwell with gusto, along with incriminating statements about his activities in politics.
He went so far as to describe himself as a "whore" in the Maryland Senate for a racetrack owner, as he went on to brag about his power.
Hundreds of documents included other glimpses of the raw Baltimore County lawmaker, many of them ugly. In one of them, he spoke of voting to expel former Sen. Larry Young in 1998 from the Maryland Senate — despite his acquittal on corruption charges — because of his race.
"I found myself voting against this guy because he was black," Bromwell said, according to an FBI transcript.
Bromwell also advised a business associate about how to bribe a state official who was purportedly demanding $50,000. The official was not named.
"Give him 20 and 30," Bromwell instructed.
In another transcript, Bromwell described himself as "a rainmaker."
Bromwell is said to have received more than $85,000 in construction work on a new house in 2000 and 2001 that Stoffregen provided free. Stoffregen also purportedly gave Mary Patricia Bromwell more than $192,000 from 2001 to 2003 for a no-show job in what was set up as a minority-front company called Namco.
In exchange, Bromwell used his influence in office to help Poole and Kent get a multimillion-dollar bid over another company that submitted a lower bid to build the University of Maryland Medical System's Weinberg Building in Baltimore. Bromwell also used his influence to intervene on Poole and Kent's behalf in contract-payment disputes relating to the UMMS project and work done on a Juvenile Justice Center project.
Seven persons indicted in the case already have pleaded guilty, including Stoffregen.