- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 30, 2007



PSC chairman to resign this week

Embattled Public Service Commission Chairman Kenneth D. Schisler will resign this week, he announced yesterday.

The resignation ends the partisan sniping between Mr. Schisler and Democrats, including Gov. Martin O’Malley, over an electricity rate increase plan approved last year.

Mr. O’Malley’s office circulated a one-sentence letter from Mr. Schisler that stated he will resign Friday. Mr. Schisler, who was appointed by Mr. O’Malley’s Republican predecessor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., was publicly pressured to step down by Mr. O’Malley and other Democrats.

Mr. Schisler came under fire in the spring after the utility-regulating PSC approved a steep rate increase plan by Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. Democrats argued that Mr. Ehrlich’s PSC, led by Mr. Schisler, was too quick to allow the rate increases, caused by the expiration of price caps in place since 1999.

Mr. Schisler said he was resigning so the PSC’s work could “move forward.”

“During my tenure at the commission I have endeavored to implement the policies enacted by the General Assembly in a fair, impartial and effective manner,” wrote Mr. Schisler, a Republican from Talbot County who served in the State House for more than a decade before being appointed to the PSC in 2003.

Mr. O’Malley said he was “thankful” that Mr. Schisler was resigning.

“Now, the work of rebuilding Maryland’s regulatory framework begins in earnest. There is no time to waste getting professional regulators back on the job — to protect consumers and restore stability for businesses,” Mr. O’Malley wrote.

He did not say who he will suggest as a replacement.


Prostitution suspect hangs self at home

A former university professor accused of working as a call girl committed suicide by hanging during the weekend, Howard County police said yesterday.

Brandy Britton, 43, was found dead Saturday afternoon at her home by a family member, who called 911. Police said there were no signs of foul play.

Miss Britton earned her doctorate from the University of California at San Francisco and founded the Institute for Women and Girls Health Research Inc., which she ran out of the same Ellicott City home where, authorities say, she entertained clients.

The house was under foreclosure, according to court records.

She was charged a year ago with four counts of general prostitution and was scheduled to go on trial next Monday.

General prostitution is a misdemeanor and carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $500 fine.

“On a first-time offense, I doubt if she would have served any time,” said Wayne Kirwan, a spokesman for the county state’s attorney’s office.

Miss Britton worked as a sociology and anthropology professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. In 1999, she lost her job and filed a sex-discrimination lawsuit against the university. The suit was dismissed.

Police took notice of a Web site advertising her home as a “discreet, upscale location in Howard County” offering evening and full-day appointments for up to $2,500.


Seventh person pleads guilty in Bromwell case

A man who owned a sheet-metal company became the seventh person to plead guilty in federal court as part of an influence-peddling case against former state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell.

James B. Digman, who was president of Regional Air Systems, pleaded guilty yesterday to lying before a federal grand jury about a false invoice he created for work done on Mr. Bromwell’s home.

Mr. Bromwell, a Democrat who represented Baltimore County, and his wife, Mary Pat, are charged in a racketeering scheme involving minority contracting fraud while he was in office. They have pleaded not guilty, and their trial has been scheduled for March.

Regional Air Systems, which installed ductwork in buildings as a subcontractor to Poole and Kent, a Maryland mechanical contracting company, was in business from 1998 to March 2006.

Former Poole and Kent President W. David Stoffregen pleaded guilty in November to racketeering conspiracy to provide benefits to Mr. Bromwell in exchange for his influence.



Paintball defendant on trial again

A Falls Church man who was acquitted three years ago of providing services to Afghanistan’s Taliban regime went on trial again yesterday, this time accused of lying to a federal grand jury about his training as a jihadist.

The attorney for defendant Sabri Benkahla, 31, told a jury during opening statements in U.S. District Court that prosecutors essentially laid a perjury trap for Mr. Benkahla after his acquittal. The defense also has accused the government of pursuing a vindictive prosecution in response to its legal defeat.

Mr. Benkahla was one of two defendants who obtained acquittals in the government’s prosecution of a dozen Muslim men who participated in what the government called a “Virginia jihad network” that used paintball games in the state’s woods in 2000 and 2001 as a means to train for global holy war.

Several of the men admitted that they traveled shortly after the September 11 attacks to Pakistan to receive jihad training with the eventual goal of joining the Taliban and fighting U.S. troops. Three received what amounted to life sentences.

The government says Mr. Benkahla lied to the grand jury twice in 2004 when he denied that he had engaged in jihad training anywhere in the world. The government contends that he trained in 1999 — either in Pakistan or Afghanistan — with a group called Lashkar-e-Taiba and that he fired automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades as part of his training.


Ex-deputy pleads guilty in corruption case

A former Henry County sheriff’s employee faces up to five years in prison after pleading guilty to lying to a federal agent.

Federal prosecutors said retired Deputy Cornelia Cox pleaded guilty in Roanoke federal court Friday as part of a plea agreement. Prosecutors dropped two charges of possessing stolen guns.

Cox is one of 13 former and current sheriff’s office employees who were indicted in November in a corruption scandal that officials said included selling confiscated drugs and weapons.

Cox is the fifth person involved in the scandal to plead guilty since the indictment was made public.

Former Sheriff H. Frank Cassell retired several days after being named in the indictment. He has pleaded not guilty to five counts, including obstruction of justice and money laundering.

Three other employees also have pleaded not guilty.


Teens sent to prison for drive-by shootings

Two Loudoun County teenagers were sentenced to prison for a series of drive-by shootings in the summer.

Israel Trevilla, 17, was sentenced yesterday in Loudoun County Circuit Court to eight years in prison and five years of supervised probation.

Eric Pang, 16, was sentenced to five years in prison and five years of supervised probation.

The teens, both of Sterling, were charged as adults and convicted in October of malicious wounding, five counts of shooting into an occupied dwelling and one count of arson.

They were accused of shooting at five homes in July, striking one man who was asleep in his bedroom. Police said the shootings were gang-related.


Providence Hospital totally smoke-free

Providence Hospital in Northeast has banned smoking not only in the building, but also on the grounds, including walkways, the loading dock and parking lots.

The hospital is the first in the city to be entirely smoke-free.

Montgomery County’s five private hospitals plan to make the switch as a group this year.

Hospital administrators said it makes sense that the facility should promote a healthy environment. They said it also is an issue of keeping a clean image, free of cigarette butts and smokers outside the doors

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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