Dixon faces new charges

A Baltimore grand jury handed up two new indictments Wednesday charging Mayor Sheila Dixon with nine criminal counts and painting a picture of a top city official who repeatedly sought gifts - and even cash - from local developers who stood to benefit from her favor.

The new charges include perjury, for allegedly failing to report thousands of dollars that one developer spent on her, and theft, for allegedly using gift cards she had solicited on behalf of the city's needy.

The indictments replace one that was handed up in January, but five of the 12 charges in that case were dismissed by a judge in May. State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh said in a news release Wednesday that the original case will be dropped. He declined to comment further.

Dixon, speaking Wednesday evening before addressing a forum for minority- and women-owned businesses, said she is "staying focused" on her agenda for the city which includes reducing crime and making Baltimore cleaner and greener.

"Hey, you know, it makes you stronger," she said of the continuing legal battle and the prospect of fighting a new round of indictments.

The mayor's defense lawyers immediately attacked the new indictments, with lead attorney Arnold M. Weiner calling them "ill-advised" and saying they "appear every bit as flawed as the original ones." Dale P. Kelberman, another Dixon defense attorney, said that the mayor is innocent and will be "vigorously" defended.

A preview of that defense likely will come next week during a hearing scheduled to address subpoenas issued in the case.

The new indictments almost certainly mean that Dixon's trial, currently scheduled for September, will be postponed while her attorneys begin a new round of discovery and motions to dismiss some or all of the charges.

This is the second indictment out of the state prosecutor's office in as many days - on Tuesday, bakery magnate John Paterakis and City Councilwoman Helen L. Holton, a Democrat, were indicted for allegedly violating campaign finance rules stemming from a $6,000 check prosecutors say he wrote to pay for a political survey for the councilwoman.

Holton previously had been indicted for bribery in connection with the survey, but those charges were dismissed in May. Prosecutors are appealing the dismissal.

At least outwardly, city government appeared unfazed by the new indictments, with the city's Board of Estimates voting Wednesday morning to authorize about $500,000 in bond funds to improve streets near Paterakis' Harbor East development.

Attorneys not associated with the mayor's case said it was unusual for a prosecutor to re-indict without adding significant new charges or adding defendants. "Typically, a new indictment indicates a stronger case," said Steve Levin, a criminal defense lawyer and former federal prosecutor.

University of Baltimore law professor Byron Warnken, who has been closely following the case, said that a second, similar indictment is unusual because it is rare for a defense attorney to get charges dismissed.

The result, though, could present a new and more difficult challenge for Dixon.

"If you can win on a motion to dismiss, you become a free law clerk for the prosecution's office," Warnken said, because the legal research done by the defense gives the prosecution a free preview of possible flaws in their case, allowing them to fix problems before facing a jury.

The new indictments are similar to the ones handed up in January and center around two familiar areas:

•The accusation that Dixon asked two developers to donate gift cards to needy families but then used some of them to purchase clothing and electronics for herself, her family and her staff.

•Allegations that Dixon perjured herself by failing to report on her city ethics forms lavish gifts, including thousands of dollars in cash, from then-boyfriend Ronald H. Lipscomb, a developer who has had a hand in high-profile projects in the city.

The fresh indictments are more clearly organized than the ones brought in January and include more details about Dixon's interactions with Lipscomb, who pleaded guilty to a campaign finance charge in June and has been cooperating with prosecutors since then.

And the new indictments also do not rely on Dixon's legislative acts - votes or bills that she introduced - to prove that Dixon knew that Lipscomb had business before the city.

In dismissing some of the original charges, a judge ruled that such legislative acts are protected and cannot be used as evidence.

Dixon and Lipscomb have acknowledged that they had a personal relationship from 2003 to 2004, when she was president of the City Council. While dating, the pair traveled to Avon, Colo., in January 2004, where they stayed at the Ritz Carlton hotel; New York City in February 2004, where they stayed at the Trump International Hotel and spent $3,200; and Chicago in March 2004, where Dixon charged $7,853 to her American Express card in a single day of shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue, Coach, Giorgio Armani and St. John Boutique.

While in Chicago, Dixon allegedly asked Lipscomb for money, and he gave her $2,000 to $3,000 in cash, a new detail in Wednesday's indictment. About a month later in April 2004, Dixon said she needed more money to pay bills from the Chicago trip, and Lipscomb gave her $1,500 to $2,000 in cash in one payment and funneled $4,000 to her via her driver in another, according to the indictment.

Dixon did not report any of these gifts on her ethics forms even though Lipscomb was working on projects that were before the City Council at the time, according to prosecutors.

The indictments issued Wednesday also shed new light on the gift cards that the mayor is alleged to have stolen from Baltimore's poor. Dixon asked Lipscomb each December from 2004 to 2006 to donate gift cards to distribute in the city's impoverished neighborhoods, and similarly requested them in December 2005 from Patrick Turner, the developer who is planning a huge complex in Westport. Both men agreed, giving thousands of dollars' worth of gift cards for stores, including Target, Giant, Best Buy and Circuit City, according to the indictment.

Dixon spent many of those gift cards on herself, sometimes within days of soliciting and receiving them from the developers, according to the indictment.

Some of the gift cards for needy families wound up in the hands of City Hall staff. In February 2007, a Baltimore police officer who is not named in the indictment spent $50 from a Giant gift card meant for the poor. One of Dixon's relatives, who is not named, used a gift card from Old Navy in New York City, prosecutors allege.

Also, one of Dixon's closest aides, Howard Dixon (no relation to the mayor), used five Circuit City gift cards to purchase a Sony PlayStation Portable, according to the indictment. Sheila Dixon gave a staff member a Sony PlayStation Portable along with gift cards from Giant and Circuit City, prosecutors say.

Baltimore Sun reporters Julie Bykowicz and Melissa Harris contributed to this article.

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