Subpoenas offer new details on Catonsville probe

Laws and LegislationCrime, Law and JusticeElectionsCatonsvillePoliticsTom QuirkHurricane Sandy (2012)

State investigators have asked Baltimore County officials for a broad range of information in an inquiry related to a planned Catonsville medical building, including communications between county employees and a developer, zoning files and a councilman's correspondence, according to a subpoena obtained by The Baltimore Sun.

Subpoenas sent to a number of county agencies as part of a grand jury investigation sought a variety of records related to the Southwest Physicians Pavilion planned by Whalen Properties, including emails, text messages and phone records of communications with developer Steve Whalen and his employees. The subpoenas, issued in August, also requested documents related to the development from the office of Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents the district where the project is planned.

Other requested information included records related to county development laws and regulations, and any proposals to change those rules to accommodate the project.

Chief Investigator James I. Cabezas of the state prosecutor's office said he could not comment on the intent of the inquiry, but cautioned against drawing conclusions based on the contents of the subpoenas.

"Office policy is we don't confirm or deny the existence of any investigations," Cabezas said Friday. "However, generally speaking, it should not be concluded that because a particular individual may be named in a subpoena, that that person is the subject of an investigation — or even implied."

The state prosecutor's office investigates matters such as public corruption and violations of election and campaign finance laws. It is prosecuting Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold on allegations of misconduct, and prosecuted GOP campaign workers Paul Schurick and Julius Henson, who were convicted on charges related to robocalls in the 2010 gubernatorial race.

"I'm fully cooperating with the state's attorney's office, and I'm confident that when the process is complete, that the facts uncovered will speak for themselves," Quirk, a Catonsville Democrat, said Friday. He has said previously that he believes the project is high quality and that the county spent a great deal of time reviewing the plans.

Whalen said he has not talked with the prosecutor's office about the development.

"I have not had any contact whatsoever with the state prosecutor with regard to this project," he said, adding that his company followed all regulations and laws, and that the county's development review process was thorough.

Whalen Properties wants to build a four-story medical office building over a three-story parking garage on a 2.5-acre site on Kenwood Avenue right off the Beltway.

Whalen is a well-known figure in Catonsville, and his company, founded in 1980, has developed residential communities in Catonsville, as well as office buildings in Baltimore and Howard counties.

The county initially denied a Public Information Act request from The Sun for the subpoenas, saying that state law allowed it to withhold certain records of investigations. But officials included a copy of the subpoena received by the Department of Public Works in a subsequent request for a range of documents related to the Southwest Physicians Pavilion.

County Attorney Mike Field said the disclosure of the subpoena to The Sun was "inadvertent" but confirmed that all subpoenas received by executive branch agencies contained the same requests for information. The agencies subpoenaed included the Department of Permits, Approvals and Inspections, the Department of Public Works, and the Department of Planning.

The county ethics commission also received a subpoena seeking Quirk's financial disclosure forms, Field said. Those documents are public and were already posted on the county website.

The proposed Southwest Physicians Pavilion is a "planned unit development," which grants a developer exemptions from certain zoning regulations if the project offers community benefits such as an environmentally friendly design or improvements to nearby public buildings.

As part of that process, the council member who represents the district where the project is located must draw up a resolution to authorize review of the plans. Quirk sponsored such a resolution, and the County Council passed it last September.

An administrative law judge who will decide whether to approve the development plans has held a series of hearings on the plans since August.

The latest hearing, scheduled for late October, was canceled because of Hurricane Sandy. It has been rescheduled for Dec. 3, Whalen said.

Commenting on the state prosecutor's investigation, he said, "It is what it is. My expectation is that there will be absolutely nothing actionable by the prosecutor."

alisonk@baltsun.com

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Laws and LegislationCrime, Law and JusticeElectionsCatonsvillePoliticsTom QuirkHurricane Sandy (2012)
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