Councilwoman Helen Holton, who represents Baltimore’s Eighth District, has been removed as chair of the City Council’s Taxation and Finance Committee. Lester Davis, a spokesman for Council President Bernard “Jack” Young, said the announcement was made on Oct. 4 at a scheduled council meeting.

Earlier in the day, Holton pleaded no contest to charges that she violated state campaign finance and election regulations in 2007. For the misdemeanor offense, Holton received one year of unsupervised probation and was ordered to pay a $2,500 fine.

“Today ends this case,” Holton, a certified public accountant by trade, told local media outlets as she left the courthouse. “I will continue to serve on the City Council and to serve my community to the best of my ability to help make Baltimore a safer, healthier, and more prosperous city.”

Legal trouble for the councilwoman began with 2009 court proceedings in a Baltimore City Circuit Court. A grand jury indicted Holton for conspiracy to violate campaign finance laws and conducting campaign finance activity other than through a campaign finance entity.

According to documents from the state prosecutor’s office, during her 2007 re-election bid Holton wanted a political survey to be conducted by professional polling company Lester & Associates. The councilwoman then met privately with developers Ronald Lipscomb and John Paterakis in July 2007 and asked them to split the $12,500 bill.

Upon agreement payment was issued to the polling company for the full amount from Lipscomb’s company Doracon Contracting. In August 2007 J&B Associates, controlled by Paterakis, issued a check to Doracon for $6,000 as payment for Paterakis’ portion of the survey.

By law, the documents state, payments should have been made to the councilwoman’s campaign finance entity “Citizens for Helen Holton” and reported to the Maryland State Board of Elections. Any attempts to circumvent that process are illegal. Also, Maryland campaign finance laws limit campaign contributions by an individual to $4,000 during a four-year election cycle.

Paterakis and Lipscomb were indicted on charges of conspiracy to violate campaign finance laws and making an illegal campaign finance payment. In a 2009 plea deal both men admitted guilt and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors by testifying against Holton. They were each ordered to pay the maximum penalty, a $25,000 fine. In addition Lipscomb was ordered to perform 100 hours of community service, and has since moved his company headquarters to Washington, D.C. Paterakis was exempt from community service due to his age.

In January 2009 Holton was again indicted on criminal charges of bribery, perjury, malfeasance in office and nonfeasance in office. Lipscomb was also handed a criminal indictment for bribery relating to the survey payment. Those charges against the developer were dropped as a part of his plea deal. Online court documents show that related charges against Holton for bribery, perjury, and malfeasance in office were dismissed later in 2009 by Judge Dennis Sweeney.

State prosecutors have appealed Sweeney’s decision to the state Court of Appeals. “In the grand scheme of things, these are relatively minor charges,” said Deputy State Prosecutor Thomas McDonough outside the courthouse. “We think the case that really needs to be resolved is the bribery case that’s up in front of the court of appeals right now.”

 

Melissa Jones

Special to the AFRO