Former state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell and his wife, Mary Patricia, pleaded not guilty yesterday to charges that they traded their political influence for a lucrative, no-show job and off-the-books construction work on their Baltimore County home.

When asked by the court clerk for their pleas, both Bromwells - appearing in court for the first time since being charged - somberly announced they were "on all counts, not guilty."

W. David Stoffregen, the former chief executive officer of Baltimore contracting firm Poole and Kent Co., also has been charged in the indictment. Stoffregen's initial appearance is scheduled for tomorrow.

The 80-page indictment - so voluminous that U.S. District Magistrate Judge Paul W. Grimm struggled to thumb through it yesterday - accuses the Democratic former senator from Baltimore County of steering millions of dollars in building contracts to Poole and Kent.

In return, prosecutors allege, Mary Pat Bromwell was paid a salary for a fake job at a company controlled by Stoffregen. Stoffregen also arranged for some $85,000 worth of discounted work to be done at the Bromwell home, according to the indictment.

Together the Bromwells are charged with racketeering, mail fraud and extortion. The former senator also has been accused of providing a false statement to FBI agents and filing false tax returns. Stoffregen has been charged with one count of obstruction of justice relating to alleged witness tampering.

Bromwell's hearing lasted less than a half-hour yesterday.

Prosecutors did not ask the judge to incarcerate Thomas Bromwell, once considered one of the most powerful politicians in Annapolis, and his wife until trial. Nor will the couple be restricted by home monitoring.

"We don't believe they're a flight risk," said Vickie LeDuc, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Baltimore.

The couple held hands as they walked out of U.S. District Court in Baltimore late yesterday morning, declining to talk to reporters about the case. But Robert Schulman, Thomas Bromwell's attorney, said he welcomed the chance to return to court and help prove the couple's innocence, adding that they still had many supporters from Bromwell's long political career.

The Bromwells' court appearance comes after prosecutors secured guilty pleas from three other defendants, who also agreed to cooperate against the Bromwells.

Geraldine and Michael Forti pleaded guilty to a fraud charge earlier this month. They are accused of helping Poole and Kent prop up a subcontractor known as Namco. The minority business gave Poole and Kent, its parent company, an edge in getting government contracts, prosecutors said.

Mary Pat Bromwell was paid by Namco, but the job was fictitious, according to prosecutors.

David M. Jackman, a former project manager for a Baltimore construction company, admitted in federal court last week that he lied to investigators about discounted work done for the Bromwells.

In court papers, the two sides began their first battle over a search of the couple's home last week.

FBI agents on Thursday raided the Bromwells' Ravenridge Road house, seizing a computer and documents, including financial records.

Schulman filed a court motion the next day asking a judge to appoint a special master to review the seized documents.

"It's a motion demanding that the government not review any confidential information that could be considered attorney-client privilege," Schulman said.

So far Bromwell, the president and chief executive officer of the Maryland Injured Workers' Insurance Fund, a quasi-public agency, has the backing of his employer. That support could be critical as he mounts a defense while prosecutors move to seize his assets.

Earlier this month, the U.S. attorney's office sought to take thousands of dollars worth of bank accounts, pensions, retirement accounts, cars and real estate from Stoffregen and the Bromwells, a somewhat unusual step for prosecutors to take before conviction.

matthew.dolan@baltsun.com