- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 18, 2003

BALTIMORE (AP) — City Council President Sheila Dixon yesterday said she would fire her sister as council assistant to comply with a local ethics law, as federal prosecutors began their probe of several of Mrs. Dixon’s elected colleagues.

At least eight council members had until yesterday to provide U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio’s office with five years of material related to their hiring practices, acceptance of gifts and loans, and relations with two local businessmen — banker Edwin Hale Sr. and Benjamin Greenwald of Arrow Parking — the Baltimore Sun reported.

Many council members are calling the probe a political “witch hunt” fueled by articles in the Sun they said had sensationalized long-standing practices of hiring relatives as assistants and of accepting certain perks.

The Sun reported in July that 10 of the council’s 19 members have hired relatives and that all have accepted free passes to Arrow Parking garages. Nearly all said they also received passes to events at the Baltimore Zoo, 1st Mariner Arena and the Senator Theatre.

“When all of this is over, they’re not going to find anything, but you all aren’t [going to print that],” Mrs. Dixon told the Sun.

She said she didn’t receive a federal subpoena. “You all are really discouraging people from wanting to make sacrifices [for public service],” Mrs. Dixon said.

By firing her sister, Janice, and returning her Arrow Parking pass, Mrs. Dixon will have complied with Board of Ethics opinions that said hiring siblings and accepting the parking cards violated the ethics law.

All council members have returned the parking passes that were given to them by Mr. Greenwald, Arrow Parking’s vice president.

The ethics board ruled that the passes were ethics violations because Arrow Parking does business with the city, and it is seeking a tax break to build a new garage. The passes to the movies and the zoo were deemed acceptable.

Several council members and legal observers said the subpoenas, issued Sept. 11, left them questioning why prosecutors would start a criminal investigation into matters that constitute ethical lapses, not criminal acts.

Many elected officials on the all-Democratic council said federal prosecutors were politically motivated. Mr. DiBiagio is a Republican appointed by President Bush.

The subpoenas ask council members for “all documents” concerning financial, political and professional dealings dating back five years. These include gifts worth more than $100, any loans, non-council income or consulting fees, council office employees and official actions related to Mr. Greenwald or Mr. Hale, owner of the Baltimore Blast soccer team and chairman of 1st Mariner Bank.

Mr. Hale said he didn’t receive a subpoena and has no idea why his name would be on it. He said his bank found it hadn’t provided loans to council members.

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