A federal grand jury accused a Democratic former state senator from Baltimore County yesterday of accepting bribes from a local construction company president vying for millions of dollars worth of state contracts.
The long-expected indictment against Thomas L. Bromwell, his wife, Mary Pat, and former Poole and Kent Co. President W. David Stoffregen outlines a complex scheme of payoffs and contract fraud that abused a system intended to help companies run by women or minorities.
Over five years, the Bromwells were paid almost $300,000 by Stoffregen in the form of free home construction work and a salary to Mary Pat Bromwell for a no-show job at a "front" company posing as a female-owned subcontractor, according to the indictment. It was really operated by Poole and Kent, prosecutors charge.
In return, according to court papers, Poole and Kent received the benefit of Bromwell's influence. He intervened on the company's behalf in contract negotiations for work at a state juvenile detention center and the University of Maryland Medical System, court papers say.
The 80-page indictment comes more than two years after federal investigators started examining the close relationship between Bromwell, and Poole and Kent, a prominent Baltimore-based mechanical contractor known for its work on such projects as the Ravens football stadium.
Bromwell, 56, served in the General Assembly as a delegate and then state senator for 23 years, and was chairman of the powerful Finance Committee. He leads the Maryland Injured Workers Insurance Fund, a quasi-public agency responsible for workers' compensation claims.
No date has been set for the defendants' first appearance in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.
The 30-count indictment charges the Bromwells and Stoffregen with conspiring to violate the Racketeer Influenced Criminal Organizations Act, commonly known as RICO, mail fraud and extortion.
In addition, Thomas Bromwell is charged with wire fraud, making a false statement to FBI agents and filing false tax returns. Stoffregen is charged with wire fraud and obstruction of justice. He is accused of witness tampering.
"The charges in this indictment allege a serious abuse of public office for private financial gain. Citizens and business people deserve to know that government officials in Maryland will be held accountable if they sell their offices," Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said in a prepared statement released late yesterday.
An attorney for Stoffregen, Barry Levine, did not return a phone call yesterday seeking comment. Poole and Kent officials said they forced Stoffregen out of the company in March.
The Bromwells released a statement through their lawyers, proclaiming their innocence and intention to fight the charges lodged against them.
"This is a sad day for Tommy Bromwell, his family and his many, many supporters who have expressed their love and support of for him over the years as a result of his many good deeds and legislative accomplishments for the citizens of the State of Maryland," the statement said.
But it was the partisan charge in the Bromwells' statement - that the indictment stemmed from a "Republican controlled Department of Justice determined to secure an indictment against them, regardless of its merits" - that incensed Rosenstein yesterday.
"This case would have been pursued the same way regardless of anyone's political affiliation," Rosenstein said in an interview.
Poole and Kent officials released a statement last night saying the mechanical contractor has long cooperated with federal authorities, adding, "The quality of our work has never been an issue in the investigation."
Reaction in Annapolis, where Bromwell once wielded wide-ranging power, was somber.
"The governor takes these allegations very seriously," said Henry Fawell, a spokesman for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. "He has asked his staff to carefully review the indictment. He wishes the Bromwell family the best during this difficult time."
Ehrlich, a political ally of Bromwell's, supported the senator's attempt to overthrow Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller in 2000. And last year Bromwell returned to the State House to lobby on behalf of Ehrlich's medical malpractice bill.
Miller said last night that he was saddened and disappointed to hear of the indictment. "Senator Bromwell truly did have a very distinguished career in the Maryland General Assembly, both as a member of the House of Delegates and a member of the Senate," Miller said. "I hope that they have an opportunity to clear their names."
Injured Workers Insurance Fund board Chairman Daniel E. McKew said last night that no decision had been made about whether Bromwell will stay in his job while the charges are pending.
The indictment takes a tough stance toward Mary Pat Bromwell, who is charged in 11 counts, including racketeering, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years. The charges portray her as playing an active role in corrupt activity. She is accused of posing as chief operating officer of the subcontractor Namco during a June 2003 meeting at which officials of the Maryland Aviation Administration were trying to determine whether the company was still a legitimate female-controlled enterprise.
Geraldine Forti, who had been Namco's chief executive officer, has pleaded guilty to a fraud in which Poole and Kent operated the company as a minority front - giving it an edge in getting government contracts. Her husband, Michael Forti, a former Poole and Kent executive, also pleaded guilty to fraud charges last month.
According to the indictment, Stoffregen paid off Bromwell during the late 1990s and early 2000s in exchange for the senator's influence to assist the chief executive and his company.
In return, the indictment says, Poole and Kent did construction work valued at more than $85,000 at Bromwell's home in Baltimore County. The labor and materials were provided by Stoffregen for free or at a reduced cost.
Mary Pat Bromwell also received $192,000 in payments from January 2001 to May 2003 for what prosecutors contend was a no-show job at the female-owned Namco Services Corp., which qualified as a minority contractor.
According to court documents, Geraldine Forti decided in spring 1999 that she wanted to close Namco. But Stoffregen did not want to lose the ability to use Namco, court papers said. Namco enabled Stoffregen's company to meet female and minority contracting requirements on its governmental projects.
Court documents in the Forti case say Stoffregen proposed to Michael Forti - then a Poole and Kent executive - that Poole and Kent secretly operate and control Namco in exchange for regular payments to Geraldine Forti.
Some of Namco's construction work during that time included a $2.2 million contract for terminal expansion at and a $650,000 contract at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.
Namco also did work on the state-run Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center. Poole and Kent was not the low bidder but was selected after legislators and community groups questioned whether a competing company that offered a better price had sufficient minority participation.
The project suffered delays and cost overruns.
In the fall of 2000, court papers state, Stoffregen offered to pay Bromwell about $80,000 annually to remain in his Senate office rather than leave the legislature for a position at the Injured Workers Insurance Fund. Bromwell agreed to remain in the Senate in exchange for the payments, which were disguised as the Namco salary for his wife, according to prosecutors.
The indictment further alleges that Bromwell used his influence to help Poole and Kent win a multimillion dollar bid for the mechanical subcontract on the University of Maryland Medical System's Weinberg Building in downtown Baltimore. The total cost of the project was about $150 million, according to hospital officials.
Bromwell's influence on Poole and Kent's behalf extended to subsequent contract disputes with medical center and the state regarding the juvenile justice center project, according to the indictment.
After cajoling from Bromwell, the company collected millions in disputed cost overruns for construction of the juvenile justice center in Baltimore, according to the indictment.
firstname.lastname@example.org Sun reporters Michael Dresser, David Nitkin and Andrew A. Green contributed to this article.