- The Washington Times - Friday, May 18, 2007


Council approves $4.1 billion budget

The Montgomery County Council yesterday tentatively approved a $4.1 billion budget, with nearly half of the money going to public schools and a $613 tax credit going to most homeowners.

“We’re very pleased with the 9-0 vote,” said council President Marilyn Praisner, a Democrat. “It shows unanimity for the county.”

The county’s financial staff will review the fiscal 2008 budget before the council takes a final vote Thursday. The budget takes effect July 1.

The budget is about $1.5 million less than the one submitted by County Executive Isiah Leggett, a Democrat.

The budget includes $1.98 billion for the county school system, the largest in Maryland with almost 138,000 students in 199 schools. Overall, the budget is 7 percent more than this year’s. It includes raises for teachers of 4.8 percent and 5 percent in each of the next two years.

The county’s operating budget increased by 7.1 percent from this fiscal year, despite no new taxes. The $613 tax credit will go to the 243,000 homeowners who live in their homes. About 80 percent of residences qualify.

More than 100 officers will be added to the county’s police force and fire department, said council member Phil Andrews. Mr. Andrews, District 3 Democrat, said overall crime has decreased in the county since 2003, but robberies have increased 48 percent in the past two years.

The budget also requests the county’s Department of Public Works and Transportation to begin changing its cars, buses and trucks to use “environmentally sensitive fuel.”

Council member Nancy Floreen, at-large Democrat, said about 38 percent of the fleet will be ready by January 2009.

Millions approved for Bay projects

The U.S. Senate has approved about $300 million for the water resources development projects in Maryland being managed by the Army Corps of Engineers.

More than $190 million would be used for the ongoing project to rebuild Poplar Island in the Chesapeake Bay with material dredged from shipping channels near the Port of Baltimore.

The package also includes a $30 million increase for the Corps’ oyster restoration program, $9 million to restore Smith Island, near Crisfield, and $30 million to reduce Potomac River pollution from the Blue Plains sewage treatment plant.

The House and Senate will negotiate a final version of the bill to send to President Bush.


Toddler dies after fall from window

A 1-year-old girl injured in a three-story fall from the window of her family’s town house died Wednesday night at Children’s Hospital in the District.

Maisie Mahmudi was found unresponsive and not breathing Tuesday night on a patio beneath the window. Montgomery County police said the child had been in a bedroom with her father. She fell when the father dozed off briefly.

Police think the child’s death was accidental. No charges are anticipated.


Officer found guilty of gun charge, fleeing

Officer Jemini Jones, who was acquitted in January of coercing a woman to have sex with him under the threat of arrest, was found guilty yesterday of handgun charges in a separate incident and given a suspended sentence, the State’s Attorney’s Office said.

Jones was found guilty of carrying a handgun in a vehicle and fleeing and eluding police.

In October, Jones ran a red light at 33rd and Frisby streets. When police tried to stop his vehicle, he refused and police followed at high speeds until Jones stopped in an alley off 34th Street. A handgun was recovered from the vehicle.

Jones had been suspended without pay since he was accused in January 2006 of raping a woman inside a police station in exchange for releasing her from custody. He was reinstated to the force but immediately suspended with pay last week, a police spokesman said.

Jones’ right to carry a handgun was suspended.

Judge John Carroll Byrnes sentenced Jones to a three-year suspended prison term and three years’ probation for the handgun count and a concurrent one-year suspended prison term, three years’ probation and a $1,000 fine for the fleeing count.

State board institutes removal of Thomas

The Maryland State Board of Education yesterday began the process of removing Nathaniel B. Thomas from his seat on the Prince George’s County school board.

Mr. Thomas, 26, is charged with a felony sex crime involving a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old student he taught. He also is accused of having an inappropriate relationship with two other county students, including the student member of the board, and bringing a student to a conference in San Francisco without the permission of the youth’s parents.

The county board asked the state Board of Education to remove Mr. Thomas for “immorality and misconduct in office” after receiving a report from an independent investigator that detailed his behavior, which included playing sexually suggestive games with the two students and giving them alcohol.

The board will offer him a hearing within 10 days. Gov. Martin O’Malley would have to sign off if the board decides to expel Mr. Thomas.



Secret Service agent charged with DUI

A U.S. Secret Service agent was arrested and charged with driving under the influence during the three-day weekend commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown.

Authorities said John Bozzuto, 47, of Woodstock, Md., was arrested shortly after 1 a.m. Saturday. York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office spokesman Mike Russell would not say whether Mr. Bozzuto took field sobriety tests or breath tests or what his blood-alcohol level was.

Jail officials said Mr. Bozzuto is free on $2,500 bail.

Secret Service spokesman Eric Zahren said the agency’s internal affairs unit will look into the arrest.


Student, 18, found with loaded gun, knife

An 18-year-old from Bedford County was arrested yesterday after officials at his high school found him carrying a loaded pistol and a knife.

The Bedford County Sheriff’s Office did not release the name of the male, saying they are still investigating what he intended to do with the weapons.

Authorities said a school administrator confronted the student after a tip from other students. The student handed over the loaded .45-caliber Ruger pistol, a second loaded magazine and a folding knife with a 5-inch blade.

The school was locked down for an hour while police investigated and searched for explosives or other dangers. No one was hurt.

The student could face a felony charge for bringing a gun onto school property. Prosecutors said he could face additional charges after investigators determine his intent.


Bounty hunters sought for boll weevils

Anyone looking for a cottonpickin’ job this summer is in luck because Virginia is looking for boll weevil trappers.

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services says the bug has not been found in Virginia since 1996.

Trappers will work in hot cotton fields for a few days a week from mid-July to early November. Workers will check traps baited with a sex hormone that attracts the beetle, which used to be the scourge of Virginia cotton farmers.

Workers will received $25 for every weevil caught. But there is a $300 fine for failing to find a dead one planted by the agriculture department.

The state is looking for 18 counties; their salaries will vary, officials said.


Elephants honored as tourism stars

The city has bestowed one of its highest tourism honors upon three of its biggest residents.

Cita, Monica and Lisa — a trio of elephants at the Virginia Zoo who weigh in at 7,800, 8,600 and 10,000 pounds, respectively — became the first nonhumans to be named Norfolk’s ambassador of the year on Wednesday.

The popular pachyderms “represent the ‘big picture’ when it comes to hospitality and customer service” as they “happily go about their day performing their various crowd-pleasing assignments,” including pulverizing branches and logs, stomping tires and rolling, zoo director Greg Bockheim wrote in his nomination.

Honorees typically receive a gift, such as a restaurant or hotel gift certificate. But “a night on the town might be too much on the city” for these three, said Mary Garrett, spokeswoman for the Norfolk Convention and Visitors Bureau, which sponsors the annual awards.

Instead, they received a “substantial” bag of peanuts.



Former IRS agent guilty of tax fraud

A former Internal Revenue Service agent who pleaded guilty to a charge of making false statements on a tax return will serve 18 months in prison.

Ronald Heidel, 60, worked for the IRS in the 1970s and more recently owned the Gentlemen’s Gold Club, a strip club in Rosedale that he sold in 2002. From 1999 to 2001, federal prosecutors said he skimmed nearly $1.5 million in cash from that business and another business.

Heidel now lives in Florida but was sentenced Wednesday in federal court in Baltimore. His sentence also requires payment of $135,000 in restitution and a $30,000 fine.

According to court papers, Heidel’s career as an IRS agent ended after his 1983 conviction on charges related to filing a false corporate return on behalf of a company he had audited.


Corrections chief to step down

Maryland’s Acting Commissioner of Correction John Rowley is stepping down to become warden of the new maximum-security North Branch Correctional Institution near Cumberland.

Mr. Rowley said overseeing the state’s 26 prisons was time-consuming and disrupted his family life. He is expected to stay on the job until a successor is named.

Mr. Rowley was warden at the medium-security Maryland Correctional Institution in Jessup when he was asked in August to replace Frank Sizer, who retired. Mr. Rowley previously worked for 25 years with the Pennsylvania corrections department.


Suspect back in prison after mistaken release

A suspect in a 2006 killing who was erroneously freed from prison Tuesday is back in custody, state prison authorities said.

James Burton was serving a drug sentence and had been ordered held without bail for trial on the murder charge, but a Division of Correction spokeswoman said a detainer for the murder charge was not in the division’s computer system. Burton’s mistaken release from the Metropolitan Transition Center in Baltimore was apparently the result of completing the drug sentence.

The Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office was told about Burton’s release by his attorney and said he subsequently surrendered to city police.

Burton’s first trial in last year’s killing of Aaron Godbolt ended in a hung jury. The retrial is set for August.


Dirty car records license plate imprint

The driver of a vehicle that hit a parked car in Annapolis and then drove off might have thought he made a clean getaway.

But Officer Hal Dalton said the parked 2007 Honda was so dirty that when the offending car struck it, an imprint of its license plate was left in the dirt.

Police said they are tracking down the offender.

The crash occurred Monday night on Compromise Street.


Dominatrix arrested after 6 years on run

A woman on the lam since her indictment in 2001 has been caught and returned to Virginia to face charges of prostitution and crimes against nature, police said.

Patricia Helen Meehan, 55, also is charged with keeping a bawdy house and manufacturing marijuana, said Bill Kennedy, spokesman for the Stafford County, Va., Sheriff’s Office.

Miss Meehan was arrested May 8 in Hagerstown, Md., by Maryland State Police troopers and returned to Virginia, the Hagerstown Herald-Mail reported yesterday. She was being held without bond at the Rappahannock Regional Jail in Stafford, the newspaper reported.

Mr. Kennedy said the 2001 indictment stemmed from an investigation that began after police received complaints from some of her neighbors in Stafford. Police found a Web site for “Mistress Jesse, D.C.’s Hottest Domina,” that they linked to her, he said.

Miss Meehan told a man who was considering buying a home in the neighborhood that she was a dominatrix and charged $275 an hour for her services, according to charges.

When police searched Miss Meehan’s home, they found bondage instruments and sexual aids, Mr. Kennedy said.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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