- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 5, 2009

BALTIMORE | A bakery magnate and developer pleaded guilty Friday to violating campaign-finance law by paying for a political poll for a Baltimore city councilwoman.

John Paterakis, 80, pleaded guilty in Baltimore Circuit Court to splitting the $12,500 bill for a poll for Councilwoman Helen L. Holton with developer Ronald H. Lipscomb, who has already pleaded guilty to similar offenses. State law prohibits contributing more than $4,000 to a candidate during an election cycle.

Paterakis received probation before judgment and will pay a $25,000 fine. Retired Howard County Circuit Judge Dennis M. Sweeney, who is presiding over a series of cases involving corruption at City Hall, also barred Paterakis from contributing money to city officials and candidates or attending fundraisers during the period of his probation, which runs through Jan. 1, 2012.

Paterakis also pleaded guilty on behalf of one of his companies, which will pay a $1,000 fine. He declined to comment after the hearing.

“John Paterakis accepts full responsibility for his mistake in failing to follow the campaign finance rules,” his attorney, Charles P. Scheeler, said in a written statement. “But this mistake, while regrettable, does not diminish John’s achievements over a 60-year career in which he has created thousands of jobs, and made Baltimore a better place in which to live.”

Paterakis is president of H&S; Bakery Inc., the largest privately owned bakery in the United States. He also owns H&S; Properties Development Corp., which led the transformation of Harbor East, a once-neglected industrial section of Baltimore’s waterfront that is now home to hotels, office towers and high-end restaurants and retail.

Paterakis agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in their case against Ms. Holton, who faces trial in December on similar charges. Ms. Holton’s attorney has said she is not guilty, and she has not spoken publicly about the accusations.

“Cozy financial relationships between developers and public officials are devastating to the public confidence in the honesty and fairness of our governing institutions,” State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh said.

The State Prosecutor’s Office, which investigates public corruption, has also secured an indictment against Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon on charges including theft and perjury, but the allegations against Paterakis and Ms. Holton do not involve the mayor.

According to a statement of facts read in court by prosecutors, Paterakis and Lipscomb agreed to pay for the poll in the summer of 2007, when Ms. Holton was running for re-election. Ms. Holton’s campaign manager advised against the poll, which gauged her name recognition and prospects for higher office, saying it was a waste of money.

But the councilwoman said she would find a way to get the money and later met with Lipscomb and Paterakis and asked them to pay for it, according to the statement of facts. The pollster submitted an invoice for $12,500 directly to Lipscomb’s company, and Paterakis sent Lipscomb a check for $6,000 to cover his share.

Paterakis, who has no previous criminal record, made no statements in court beyond answering questions from Judge Sweeney. At one point during the hearing, and again afterward, Paterakis pulled out a check in an apparent attempt to pay the fines levied against him, but was dissuaded by his lawyer.

The fines must be paid within a week, the judge said.

Paterakis and his relatives are frequent donors to politicians, but the charges appear to have soured him on politics. Mr. Scheeler told the judge his client “heartily agrees with and embraces” the condition that he not donate to candidates.

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