- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A developer who pleaded guilty in connection with a federal investigation into former Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson also appears to have given tens of thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions through “straw donors” to former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele and former Rep. Albert Wynn.

Patrick Q. Ricker pleaded guilty in 2009 to providing cash, meals, tickets, trips and sexual services to county officials from 1997 through 2008, according to a plea agreement unsealed in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt on Tuesday - the same day Johnson pleaded guilty to soliciting thousands of dollars in bribes during his eight years as county executive.

The plea agreement says Ricker gave tens of thousands of dollars to co-conspirators, who then doled the money out to at least a dozen straw donors, instructing them to donate the funds to campaign committees and political slates to bypass campaign finance limitations and disclosure requirements.

None of the candidates who received the donations have been accused of any wrongdoing, and nothing in the plea agreement indicates that the candidates or their campaign committees were even aware of the illegal nature of the contributions.

The U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment for this report, and a message left with Ricker’s attorney was not returned.

The co-conspirators and the straw donors are not named in the plea agreement, but the straw donors are identified by their initials, the amounts of their contributions and the dates they made the donations.

One of the political committees, which are not named but identified in court papers by letters, is described as that of “a candidate for United States Senator for Maryland” and was said to have received $25,000 in contributions from various straw donors.

The plea agreement says the bulk of those donations were made on Sept. 29, 2006, the same day straw donors were provided with checks by a co-conspirator in the scheme.

An analysis of state and federal campaign finance databases shows that the only U.S. Senate campaign committee in Maryland that received donations from people with the initials contained in the court papers for the straw donors on the date and in the amount specified was Mr. Steele’s committee, Steele for Maryland Inc.

Similarly, Federal Election Commission (FEC) records show many of the same people with the initials of the straw donors - along with others whose initials match those listed as straw donors in court papers - contributing a total of $32,000 to the 2008 congressional campaign of Mr. Wynn on dates and in amounts specified in the plea agreement.

Neither Mr. Steele nor Mr. Wynn could be reached for comment.

Mr. Steele lost the 2006 Senate race to Benjamin L. Cardin, a Democrat. He served as chairman of the Republican National Committee from 2009 to January. Mr. Wynn lost the 2008 Democratic primary to Rep. Donna Edwards and resigned from office shortly afterward.

The plea agreement says Ricker is a Maryland resident and Prince George’s County-based developer. He is president of Ricker Brothers Inc., a commercial brokerage and development consulting firm. He has not been sentenced.

Since 2005, federal campaign finance records show, Ricker has personally given about $13,000 to congressional candidates and $10,000 to Maryland’s Republican Party. State records show that since 2003 he donated more than $40,000 to state and local campaigns and causes. Typical of developers’ campaign activities, he spread his donations around, making sizable contributions to both Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley in 2006 and 2007 and former Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich in 2005 and 2010, as well as to Johnson, to Mr. Steele and Mr. Wynn.

But in addition to the legal campaign contributions and the money he gave to straw donors, Ricker agreed to plead guilty to charges that he and three co-conspirators provided things such as meals, money, tickets and trips to state and local officials in order to influence their decisions in favor of projects with which he was involved.

The total value of the scheme was estimated by prosecutors at between $400,000 and $1 million.

Prosecutors said that in return Ricker received favors, including approval letters for a detailed site plan for the proposed mixed-use development project called Greenbelt Station; the creation of a special taxing district around Greenbelt Station; local and state approvals for the project’s development company, Greenbelt Metropark LLC; and assistance acquiring surplus property from the county for development by Day Homes LLC, a residential development company.

Ricker also provided six other political committees and slates that supported local politicians with thousands of dollars’ worth of donations through straw donors, according to his plea agreement.

Based on comparisons of the dates the donations were made, the amount of the donations and the initials of the donors, the six groups that appear to have each received between $16,000 and $56,000 in straw donations are: Patuxent Progressive Leadership Slate, Community Coalition Advocacy Slate, Committee for a Progressive Prince George’s, Twenty-Third District Team Slate, Vision for 2006, and Friends of Ulysses Currie.

In August 2007, Ricker provided money to several straw donors and a company called Rickel LLC that then donated $20,000 in $4,000 increments to Patuxent Progressive Leadership Slate. At the time of the donations, the Patuxent slate represented Prince George’s County Council member Thomas Dernoga, Maryland Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters and Democratic Central Committee candidate Ronald Skotz.

The Community Coalition Advocacy Slate, which received $2,500 from one straw donor in May 2005, represented Prince George’s County Council members Thomas Dernoga, Camille Exum, Samuel Dean, and David Harrington, all Democrats.

The Committee for a Progressive Prince George’s, which listed County Council member Camille Exum, Maryland state Sen. Nathaniel Exum, Maryland Delegates Carolyn Howard and Michael Vaughn among members, received $24,000 in straw donations in June 2006.

“People may use your name to bring in funds,” Mr. Vaughn said. “I ran with them, but as far as any money coming in from that slate, I can’t remember any checks coming through.”

Twenty-third District Team Slate, which represented 35 candidates in various state and local races, received $23,500 in donations from four straw donors, Ricker and an unnamed co-conspirator. The donations, which Ricker admits funding, were made from July to September 2006.

In August 2006, when $16,000 in straw donations appear to have been made to the Vision for 2006 Slate, which listed members as Johnson, then the county executive; County Council member Marilynn Bland, who is now the clerk of the Circuit Court; and council candidate Obie Patterson, who was elected to the council in 2010.

The apparent recipient of the largest sum of straw donations is Friends of Ulysses Currie. According to Ricker’s plea agreement, various companies with ties to Ricker each provided $4,000 donations to a campaign on Jan. 8, 2007. Of the donations made in $4,000 amounts on that day to all Maryland candidates, two companies named in Ricker’s plea agreement, Greenbelt Metropark LLC. and Rickel LLC., are among the 16 companies that provided to Friends of Ulysses Currie on that day.