- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 30, 2003

Democrats in the Virginia House of Delegates have re-elected Richmond Delegate Franklin P. Hall as their minority leader and Brian J. Moran of Alexandria as caucus chairman.

Other officers re-elected were Robert H. Brink of Arlington County as vice chairman for operations; Kristen J. Amundson of Fairfax County as secretary; and Marian Van Landingham of Alexandria as sergeant-at-arms.

New officers include Delegate Lionell Spruill Sr. of Chesapeake as vice chairman for outreach and Delegate Albert C. Pollard Jr. of Lancaster County as treasurer.

Democrats gained three seats in the election three weeks ago, bringing their number in the House to 37. Nine of the 12 incoming freshmen legislators are Democrats.

• Detroit fact-finding

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley will join other politicians in Detroit today.

The group will talk with General Motors executives about the future of the automaker’s endangered Broening Highway plant.

Greg Massoni, the Republican governor’s press secretary, says the trip is “a fact-finding mission to see the future of GM in the state of Maryland.”

U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski and U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, both Democrats, also will join the effort to preserve the 68-year-old plant and its 1,100 jobs.

The future of the Broening Highway plant became more uncertain after the most recent contract between General Motors and the United Auto Workers union permitted its closure.

General Motors has promised to keep the plant open through summer 2005, but its future beyond that is cloudy.

The Maryland officials are expected to talk to GM executives about incentives that might keep the plant open.

The group will leave Baltimore-Washington International Airport on the same commercial airline flight this morning and return together late this afternoon.

• Plea to bribery

A former New Castle County, Del., council member accused of soliciting a bribe pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor tax charge and promised to cooperate with federal prosecutors in an ongoing investigation.

Christopher Roberts pleaded guilty in federal court Nov. 24 to filing a false tax return, admitting that he accepted $4,400 he did not report on his income-tax return.

The plea agreement came just days before a trial in the bribery and extortion case against Mr. Roberts was to begin. Prosecutors said he accepted a $5,000 bribe in October 1998 to ensure quick approval of a 283-home subdivision near New Castle.

“He’s admitted that he took the money that we alleged in the indictment,” said U.S. Attorney Colm Connolly, who watched from the public gallery of the courtroom as Mr. Roberts entered his plea.

“We’re all satisfied with the result reached,” defense attorney Eugene Maurer Jr. said.

The misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine, although attorneys agreed that federal sentencing guidelines range from zero to six months in prison.

U.S. District Judge Sue L. Robinson did not set a date for sentencing, at which time prosecutors will dismiss the indictment.

Mr. Connolly said Mr. Roberts’ willingness to cooperate in the investigation, and the recent discovery that one of the main witnesses against Mr. Roberts had submitted a false statement in a pretrial hearing, were factors in the plea agreement.

Had the case gone to trial, potential prosecution witnesses included Robert Burns, a development consultant who admitted last month in court that he passed $5,000 to an intermediary for Mr. Roberts to ensure the council member’s support for the subdivision.

The plea agreement requires Mr. Roberts to disclose all he knows about criminal activity unrelated to the case against him, including testifying at any grand jury hearing or trial and handing over any documents that may pertain to possible crimes.

Attorneys would not provide specifics on the ongoing investigation, although federal authorities have been conducting a grand-jury probe into abuse and fraud in New Castle County government.

Mr. Roberts lost a re-election bid in the September 2002 Democratic primary.

He tried to get the criminal charges dismissed earlier this year by arguing that the July 2002 indictment, filed the day after he made his candidacy official, was timed to cost him re-election.

Prosecutors said they had accelerated their handling of the indictment but wanted to avoid filing charges around the September primary so Democrats would not be left without a viable candidate in the general election.

Judge Robinson ruled that the indictment was timed with the election in mind, but that the timing was not malicious.

• Security plan

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett is leading an effort to reassess the security needs of the D.C. area.

Mr. Bartlett, Maryland Republican, has teamed with Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat, and Rep. Jo Ann Davis, Virginia Republican, to create a bill calling for a study of the region’s roads, public transportation and utilities in light of the 2001 terrorist attacks.

The bill would create a commission that also would study redefining the geographic boundaries of the National Capital Region, Mr. Bartlett said Tuesday.

The region is defined in federal law as encompassing the District, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in Maryland, and Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties in Virginia.

Frederick County, which Mr. Bartlett represents, was included in a regional emergency coordination plan the Metropolitan Washington County Council of Governments adopted last year.

• New chief in town

Bruce Marquis, who reportedly has been pressured to leave his post as Hartford, Conn., police chief by Jan. 1, will take over the top police job in Norfolk.

On Wednesday, city officials introduced Chief Marquis, 51, during a news conference in Norfolk.

He will start work in January with an annual salary of $128,000, said Terry Bishirjian, a city spokeswoman.

Chief Marquis has called Norfolk, which has roughly 234,000 residents, “a city on the move.”

“I’m looking forward to being a part of that,” he said. “But I feel I had been playing a big part in helping move Hartford in the same direction, and I’m disappointed I can no longer be a part of that.”

Chief Marquis succeeds Melvin C. High, who served as chief for 10 years before leaving in April to become chief in Prince George’s County. Before becoming Norfolk’s first black chief, Chief High served as second in command of the D.C. police.

Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez told Chief Marquis he wanted to name a new chief after his re-election.

Mr. Perez won the Nov. 4 election, and a change to the city charter will give him the powers of a strong mayor with authority to hire and fire department heads.

The mayor has said he was frustrated by what he believed was the department’s slow embrace of community policing, its resistance to adopting improved “customer service,” its failure to move officers out of administrative jobs and repeated charges of dispatching mistakes.

But Gates Landry, president of the Hartford police union, said Chief Marquis “is an honorable man, a man of his word.”

He said Chief Marquis took over an understaffed department that had been wracked by scandal, with police officers subject to grand jury probes into prostitution and drugs.

Chief Marquis “cleaned house,” but he was fair and accessible while disciplining the officers, he said.

This column is based in part on wire service reports.

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