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P.G. project reconsidered 3 days after developer sent to jail

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One parcel of a massive mixed-used development project in central Prince George's County, which was left in a lurch after its developer was embroiled in an extortion scheme that involved a former county executive, could make headway Monday when county officials are set to reconsider plans for the land.

The hearing comes just three days after Patrick Ricker, owner of the development company that had planned to transform 47 rural acres near Joint Base Andrews into a bustling community called Westphalia Center, was sentenced to one year in jail for his role in the wide-ranging pay-to-play scheme that also sent former County Executive Jack B. Johnson to prison.

The plan for the property — which was voted down by the Prince George's County District Council in June 2011 — called for infrastructure for 364 townhouses, 150 apartments and 8,000 square feet of retail space in a sparsely populated area northeast of Andrews.

In its denial letter, the District Council wrote that the plan for Westphalia Center did not "promote the orderly development ... of land in the vicinity of major interchanges."

The owner of the property, Evangel Cathedral, filed a civil suit in Prince George's County Circuit Court a month later.

Last month the Circuit Court remanded the case back to the District Council, giving the nine County Council members who comprise the District Council a chance to reconsider the plan.

"The plan really hasn't changed," said Dan Lynch, the land use attorney representing Evangel. "From our standpoint we are really just working with the council and this is just first step."

It is unclear whether Ricker's company, Ricker Brothers Realty Company, is still the developer for the project.

A spokeswoman for Evangel, reached by phone Friday, declined to comment on the project. Mr. Lynch was unaware if Ricker remains involved.

Steven Cain, who is listed as Ricker Brothers' resident agent on the company's corporate charter, said he hadn't been in contact with Ricker recently and wasn't aware of whether he was still working on the project.

"I don't believe I'm doing anything active for him," Mr. Cain said.

A telephone number for Ricker Brothers Realty was disconnected on Friday.

Westphalia Center is a part of the much larger Westphalia Project development plan — which spans 6,000 acres and would have 15,000 new residential housing units, 1 million square feet of retail and 4 million square feet of office space anchored around a town center.

U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte on Friday sentenced Ricker, 53, to one year and a day in prison followed by three years of supervised release and ordered him to pay $250,000 restitution.

Ricker pleaded guilty in late 2009 to his role in bribing public officials in exchange for favorable official action on development plans, and for tax evasion.

His guilty plea was not made public until mid-2011, when Johnson pleaded guilty to two felony counts: extortion and conspiracy, and witness and evidence tampering.

Authorities said Ricker and co-conspirators provided goods and services to elected and government officials in exchange for obtaining approvals on two other development projects: the mixed-use Greenbelt Station development and a cluster of single-family homes to be built by Day Homes, Inc.

Ricker could not be reached for comment through his attorney Friday.

County officials declined to comment on the pending development plans.

"Because this matter is pending before the District Council, it is inappropriate for the council to comment," said council spokeswoman Angela Rouson.

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