- The Washington Times - Monday, June 22, 2009

BALTIMORE (AP) — A developer who once dated Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon and was later charged in a probe of her finances pleaded guilty Monday to a lesser conspiracy count as part of plea bargain agreement that requires his cooperation in other cases.

Ronald Lipscomb pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate campaign finance law just before his bribery trial was to begin. In exchange for the plea and his cooperation, prosecutors agreed not to prosecute the bribery charge against the developer, who was accused of paying for a poll for City Councilwoman Helen Holton in exchange for her help securing tax breaks.

State Prosecutor Robert Rohrbaugh would not comment on Lipscomb’s cooperation or whether other charges will be filed, saying only that Lipscomb would testify at trial or before a grand jury if necessary.

“All I can tell you is the investigators are working and they will follow the evidence where it leads,” Rohrbaugh said.

Lipscomb’s attorney, Gerard Martin, said his client should have known paying for the poll violated campaign finance law limit of $4,000 per person per candidate during each four-year campaign cycle. The attorney said he was confident prosecutors couldn’t prove their bribery case, but the campaign violation would have come out in testimony.

“It’s a good deal, it’s what would have happened if we tried the case,” Martin said. “This is a win-win for both sides.”

The attorney said Lipscomb, 53, was relieved to have the case behind him.

“He’s buying some peace and doing it with, in essence, what he would have to do anyway,” Martin said.

Under the plea bargain, prosecutors will recommend one year of probation, a maximum fine of $25,000 and 100 hours of community service at sentencing Oct. 22. He must also cooperate with prosecutors in other cases.

Charges against Holton were dismissed after the defense argued she has legislative immunity. Prosecutors indicated earlier that they planned to appeal that decision. Holton’s attorney questioned Monday how the state could go forward with such an appeal after agreeing not to prosecute the bribery charge against Lipscomb.

“The state’s dismissal of the bribery charge and the filing of the political contribution charge demonstrate what we have said all along,” Holton attorney Joshua Treem said. “That this was not a case of bribery, it never was, and the state has finally acknowledged that.”

A judge dismissed some charges against Dixon, including perjury and misconduct in office for allegedly failing to disclose gifts from Lipscomb. Dixon still faces charges of theft and misconduct in office for allegedly taking gift cards meant for the poor.

Dixon attorney Arnold Weiner said the case did not involve the mayor and if Lipscomb is called to testify again “and if he tells the truth, there’s no reason for anyone to have any concerns.”

The agreement not to charge Lipscomb also extends to employees of several of Lipscomb’s companies, but only to the extent the state had knowledge of the facts of any charges at the time of the agreement or becomes aware of them through Lipscomb’s cooperation.

A statement of facts in the case show the poll was proposed in July 2007 by Ronald Lester of Lester and Associates. The court record shows Holton’s campaign manager, Travis Tazalaar, was reluctant at first to commission the survey which he did not believe was necessary and required money that could be better used in other ways. Holton told him she would get Lipscomb, bakery magnate and Inner Harbor East developer John Paterakis, and a third person, who Lester could not recall, to pay for the poll, according to the statement of facts.

Holton later met with Paterakis and Lipscomb, who agreed to pay for the survey, the statement said.

Lipscomb paid for the $12,500 survey with a check from his Doracon Contracting company and was reimbursed $6,000 by J&B Associates, a check that appears to have Paterakis’ signature, the statement said.

Martin said he would have tried to call Paterakis as a witness if the case had gone to trial. Martin said he would not comment on the Dixon case and refused to characterize Lipscomb’s cooperation as testifying against anyone, saying he would testify as to what had happened.

Lipscomb is one of the city’s most prominent minority contractors and his company, Doracon Contracting Inc., has played a role as a developer or contractor in dozens of high-profile projects, including a Hilton hotel next to the Baltimore Convention Center and the Zenith, a sleek, 21-story luxury apartment building.

Martin said in a statement that Holton always supported the tax breaks for an Inner Harbor East office tower, which kept investment firm Legg Mason in the city, and the poll did not influence her vote. Lipscomb was a partner with Paterakis in the project.

Prosecutors said in their indictment of Dixon, who has admitted having a brief relationship with Lipscomb and exchanging gifts with him, that she called an unnamed developer, who later turned out to be Lipscomb, and asked for $500 in gift cards which would be donated to needy families.

“He bought some gift cards, that’s pretty much it,” Martin said, adding he didn’t know if more charges would be filed. “That’s up to Mr. Rohrbaugh.”

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