Club Dreams: The Paloma’s crew follows its bliss in West Baltimore

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, May 3, 2006

Paloma’s, the Mount Vernon nightclub whose run on West Eager Street from 1999 to 2003 started strong but fizzled in debt by the end, is planning an invitation-only reopening at its new location May 5. The invitations, which were gift-wrapped and delivered to the City Paper editorial staff April 26, announce that “the spirit and energy of Paloma’s has moved to Sowebo!” The catered, open-bar event promises five DJs, living sculpture, and valet parking. “Industrial sheik attire” is encouraged.

The new Paloma’s is marketing itself as “Sowebo’s Esoteric Nightclub,” and its new abode—at Ramsay and Woodyear streets, near the Mount Clare Junction shopping center—has been renovated to fit the bill. The concept and design of the club belongs to a middle-aged self-described artist who calls herself River, and it includes graffiti-style murals on the walls, fabric hanging from the ceilings, high-tech lighting, loungy furniture arrangements, computer stations, and sketch-pads with colored pencils. While the new Paloma’s isn’t actually located in Sowebo—a Hollins Market-centered arts-community concept dating from the 1980s that lives on in the annual Sowebohemian Arts Festival—it’s pretty close.

River, in an April 30 telephone interview, points out that, unlike the original Paloma’s, she is not a part of the business running the new club. The liquor license is held by others: River’s daughter Charity Deeb, 34; a 26-year-old Ellicott City guitarist named Jason B. Crebs; and a 45-year-old man River calls her husband, Robert A. Fogle Jr., who says he works for BGE. Fogle, she emphasizes, is the main owner of the business. “I’m involved with Paloma’s in the concept and design,” she explains. “But my husband is the one who wanted to make it happen.” River lives upstairs, above the club.

The reason River isn’t officially involved with Paloma’s is because she’s consumed with “other projects,” according to its liquor-license application. She is preparing to open another club, Eris, in October. “I’m the owner of Eris,” River says, though both Fogle and Crebs appear in official documents as partners in Eris. She sketches out her plans: a 1,500-capacity live-music venue on the 500 block of South Monroe Street, about 10 blocks west of Paloma’s, where River says she plans to showcase “national and seminational acts,” drawing crowds from Washington.

She and Fogle and Crebs, operating as Monroe Street Properties LLC, have already closed on the real estate for Eris—a $1.8 million multiple-property deal with a $200,000 down payment to former owner Abdolreza Parvizian, a D.C.-based rug merchant who, River says, holds the note for the transaction. The loan involves $10,000 payments each month, with the balance due after two years. On top of the $350,000 deal for the Paloma’s property, these transactions add up to rather large commitments to draw entertainment revenue from West Baltimore.

“We have some investors,” River explains, without elaborating, and adds that part of her enterprising spirit is to bring life to neglected places. If Eris’ business plan, which was submitted to the Baltimore City Board of Liquor License Commissioners during its ongoing licensing process, is borne out, it would be a surprising shift in the neighborhood’s lagging fortunes. In its first year of operating, the plan states, Eris will host “at least five high-profile, sell-out concerts of nationally recognized acts, such as Moby,” a famous electronic musician.

A look at River’s previous stabs at success suggests that her plans should perhaps be taken with a grain of salt. As the original Paloma’s was withering, River’s attempt to gain federal bankruptcy protection in 2002 failed. (City Paper was listed as a creditor in that case, but publisher Don Farley says the $1,180 owed was written off as bad debt.) According to Maryland court records, River has a total of 13 outstanding judgments against her, some dating back to the mid-’90s, for a total of more than $82,500, not including interest and attorneys’ fees. Those cases are against River personally, and do not include judgments against her various defunct companies. Fogle, meanwhile, emerged from bankruptcy protection in 2000.

Judy Laylon, a retired Harford County public-school teacher, is one of River’s creditors. The wife of retired postal worker and military veteran Leonard Laylon of Bel Air holds a $16,000 judgment against River. Because she is hard of hearing, Leonard Laylon answered questions for her.

“When the judge ordered [the judgment]” in 2004, Leonard Laylon recalls, “we thought we could find this woman, but she stayed one step ahead of us.” After loaning the $16,000—which Leonard says Judy Laylon did because she believed her brother Caitlyn Lance Antrim, a postoperative transsexual son of a former U.S. Navy admiral and an international-law expert, was a partner in Paloma’s—the Laylons came to the conclusion that they’d been duped. Although Antrim was a Paloma’s liquor licensee, the Laylons later decided that the business, in fact, was all River’s. (As of press time, Antrim could not be reached for comment.)

“I was told so many stories” about the ownership of the business and the real estate, Leonard says over the phone, “that I’m not sure what to believe.” In the background, Judy Laylon proclaims, “I want my money!”

Another creditor, Hail Haleem, was River’s landlord in Rockville in the mid-’90s. He says she parsed out partial payments on the monthly rent during her entire tenancy. “I’ve been following her ever since” says Haleem, who won a $10,437 judgment against her, plus interest, in 1995. “I’ve never written it off,” he says, adding that “this is the first time I’m actually learning that she’s in Baltimore.”

River, when asked about the court judgments against her, says that “things aren’t always as they appear.” Which brings up another issue: her real name. Records of past charges against her for driving while intoxicated, passing bad checks, and theft (she pleaded guilty and received probation before judgment in the 1994 DWI case, and prosecutors declined to pursue the other charges, dating from 1999 and 2002) show her legal name to be Martha Jane Biton. In more recent liquor board and corporate records, she is listed as “Martha River Bitton Fogle” or “River Fogle.” This confusion was one of several “material misstatements” that were unearthed during Eris’ licensing process that were brought up in a liquor board investigative report from last fall. The city liquor board, as a result of the report, is awaiting clarification pending license approval.

To explain her various names, River says she “went through a spiritual cleansing and was given a new name” a few years back. In the process, she continues, “a little girl named Martha Jane went away. I released her, and I released her pain, and I let her go. She’s free now, but River does exist.”

Haleem, meanwhile, is happy to have learned her various new names— he says when he knew her she was “Marti Biton”—because now he can look forward to pursuing repayment. “I want her to succeed,” Haleem says of River’s new enterprises, “because that just makes it better for collections.”

Cop Out: In Rousting Officer Jacqueline Folio, The Baltimore Police Department Has Raised Questions About its Own Internal Affairs


By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Apr. 6, 2005

At 6:08 p.m. on Thursday, March 27, 2003, an anonymous tipster calls Baltimore City 911 and describes a black man wearing a blue baseball cap, a white shirt, and blue jeans, dealing drugs at the corner of Pratt Street and Ellwood Avenue in East Baltimore. The stash, the caller says, is in a brown paper bag in some bushes next to a corner house there. Three minutes later, 41-year-old Baltimore City Police patrol officer Jacqueline Folio is the first to respond to the scene, where Patterson Park butts up to Highlandtown Middle School.

A 14-year veteran with two stints as a police academy instructor under her belt, Folio makes fleeting eye contact with a young man who fits the description, as he walks away from the area with two friends. Folio radios in the suspect’s location and proceeds to recover a brown paper bag from under the bushes. It contains money and suspected cocaine in baggies. A block away, on the opposite side of the school, other officers collar the suspect, 18-year-old Leon Burgess. A half-hour after the phone call, Burgess is on his way to Central Booking. Folio completes the paperwork, charging Burgess with possession with intent to distribute cocaine, then submits the evidence to headquarters at 9 p.m.

By all appearances, it’s a routine drug arrest, done with speed and efficiency, wrapped up neatly and ready for the courts in a matter of hours. But by midnight, it’s Folio, not Burgess, who’s in hot water. Two years later, she still is, because the whole incident was a setup, a police integrity sting designed and conducted by the BPD’s Internal Affairs Division to see if a cop fails to turn in abandoned drugs and money.

Folio properly submitted the contraband, but in her sworn statement charging Burgess with the crime, she seemed to state that she’d seen Burgess place the bag in the bushes. “Prior to the call being received by Agent Folio, the officer was patrolling that particular area and observed three B/M’s at the intersection of E. Pratt St. and S. Ellwood Ave.,” Folio wrote in her statement of probable cause to charge Burgess. “Agent Folio observed one of the B/M’s described as wearing a dark colored baseball cap, white T-shirt, and jean shorts place an object onto the ground behind a bush located against the NW wall of that corner. This individual is further identified as the def. Burgess.”

On March 28, 2003, Folio learned she was in trouble, and was immediately suspended. Although she had no obligation to do so, she wanted to give a statement about the incident because she believed she could convince investigators—or even a grand jury, if it came to that—that she was innocent. She got that opportunity on June 6, 2003, when she waived her rights under the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights and provided a voluntary statement to Internal Affairs. The department wasn’t convinced; a week later, on June 12, the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office indicted her criminally for perjury and misconduct, saying she’d purposefully lied under oath in order to maliciously pin false charges on Burgess.

The Folio indictment appeared to confirm a bad-cop stereotype—the aggressive enforcer who works poor, black neighborhoods and already has a good idea who’s guilty and who’s not, making it easy to pin false charges on a passer-by and rationalize it as removing trouble from the street before it actually happens. It’s offensive, it’s unconstitutional, it’s criminal, and it’s happened before. And Folio’s sworn statement of charges is what it is: Her statement reads that she saw Burgess “place” the stash behind the bush. In order to convict her, the state’s attorney was going to have to prove criminal intent—that Folio did it on purpose.

In December 2003, Folio was acquitted of the criminal charges by Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Lynn Stewart, who didn’t explain her verdict but apparently bought Folio’s apologetic explanation. Folio testified that the allegedly false statement in Burgess’ charging documents was not intentional and malicious, as the prosecution argued, but the result of vagueness due to a run-on sentence.

“I know what happened that day was clearly in good faith on my part,” Folio said on the stand. “When I say ‘observed’ in my probable cause statement, I was trying to say that I observed the individual who was described by the caller. And when I use the word ‘describe,’ that was based upon the information I received from the caller—that this person, in fact, did fit the description that was given out.”

At the criminal trial, Folio’s long record of complaint-free service, her stints as an academy instructor (she estimates that 90 percent of the current force trained under her), and a stack of letters praising her character and professionalism all served to paint a picture of an officer beyond reproach. But the question of her guilt or innocence apparently remained open from the department’s point of view. Though Folio was found innocent of any criminal charges, nearly a year later, on or about Dec. 14, 2004, BPD decided to take its own crack at her, charging her administratively for her statement in the Burgess arrest papers. Folio could have volunteered to take a polygraph test in an effort to clear her name, but her attorney, Clarke Ahlers, says she never did because the tests are known to be “unreliable”—especially when used to gauge a person’s intent, which was the issue in her case. Nonetheless, “the police department,” Ahlers stresses, “had the right to order her to take one, and they never did.”

Folio’s administrative case would be heard by a police trial board, with three members of the department weighing each side’s arguments before deciding Folio’s professional fate. But the trial board didn’t happen. On March 11, 2005, one business day before the scheduled March 14 hearing, Police Commissioner Leonard Hamm signed a letter immediately ordering that Folio be “removed from her regular permanent position as a Baltimore Police Officer, without fault upon her part.”

Hamm’s move indefinitely postponed the trail-board hearing and forced Folio to retire, which she did officially on March 17. The next day, in order for Folio to be eligible for city health insurance, she and her roommate, Lisa Olszewski, also a city police officer, filed publicly as domestic partners—a decision that was not made lightly, since it officially outted them as a lesbian couple.

Suddenly, the department reversed course. On March 18, the department sent a letter to Ahlers stating that “Folio is under no direct order . . . to retire. In fact, as of this date she is still a member” of the force—despite the fact that Folio had signed retirement papers, as previously directed by the department, the day before.

On March 22, Hamm issued another letter, stating that his March 11 letter ordering Folio out of her job was signed and sent “in error” and that her “job has not been abolished and I am not authorizing a retirement.” As of press time, Folio’s status as a Baltimore City police officer remains in limbo, and she and her lawyer are outraged and baffled. Once you hear her side of this story, it’s not hard to imagine why.

Directly after signing her retirement papers on March 17, Folio and Ahlers arrived at City Paper’s offices to talk. It was the first time Folio had spoken to the press about the matter. Now that she was no longer a member of the force (or so she believed), she was finally free to talk.

“The cost of this case was devastating to me,” Folio lamented in a clear, even-toned Baltimore accent. Physically, she’s obviously strong—an attribute that explains her police academy stints, teaching defensive tactics and physical fitness. And like most cops, she’s practiced at masking her emotions when speaking. But her words themselves, more than her demeanor, gave away the depth of her feelings. “I live in the city, I’ve been a lifelong city resident, and I truly believe in the city. That’s why I’ve been here so long and had complete faith in the police department.

“I guess what hurts me most,” she continued, “is who really suffered here is the citizens of Baltimore—not having me on the street protecting their communities. And if you talk to anyone in the communities that I patrolled, they miss me. To me, that’s who I ultimately work for. And I like to know that when they saw me, for eight hours they at least felt safe at some point. That’s what meant the most to me, that I’m not going to be able to do that anymore.”

The police department has nothing to say about the Folio affair because, BPD spokesman Matt Jablow says, it expects to be sued.

In fact, Ahlers has so notified the department—not formally, but by implication. On March 22—the same day Hamm rescinded his order for Folio to retire—Ahlers sent a six-page letter to the department that, in closing, reviewed Folio’s “rights” in regards to her experience with the department’s internal-affairs bureaucracy. Among them were the rights to “take civil action” in the courts, to “request federal criminal and civil investigation of misconduct by her accusers,” and “to take effective public, political action through the mass media.” Ahlers dangled the prospect of negotiating a financial settlement, but pointed out that “Ms. Folio’s legal obligation to cooperate in any federal criminal investigation” was not negotiable. Reading between the lines, Ahlers was putting the department on the alert that Folio can give as good as she gets.


The banner reads HIGHLANDTOWN ‘DRUG-FREE’ MIDDLE SCHOOL. It hangs over a public school, next to a public park, as an early spring day turns to dusk, right when students and working people who live in the area are likely to be enjoying some free time outdoors. This is where and when Internal Affairs chose to place a fake drug stash under bushes next to a public sidewalk—where any youngster might pick up the bag, where any random person passing through might be swept up in the sting and arrested—as a ploy to tempt a cop to steal abandoned contraband.

As Folio experienced it, the “random integrity test”—Internal Affairs’ term for the operation—presented anomalies that raised eyebrows even as it unfolded. Folio says she and other cops who share her beat knew that Pratt and Ellwood is not a drug corner, so the tip itself (phoned in by an Internal Affairs detective) was out of the ordinary. Even Leon Burgess, the man Folio arrested, said as much during a police interrogation: “It’s not even a drug area that they was riding in. I have never even seen . . . drug[s] move through there.”

Stranger still was the condition of the recovered cash: $250 in clean, crisp, new bills, several of them with sequential serial numbers. Folio and another responding officer discussed the unusually fresh bills as soon as they first examined them, and Burgess, when he was interrogated by police officials while still in custody at Central Booking early the next morning, pointed out that “junkies don’t give you straight money like that. Junkies’ money’s sweaty and it’s balled up and all types of stuff.”

The Internal Affairs detectives’ sting also created a victim: Leon Burgess, who was falsely stopped, detained, and arrested as a direct result of the actions of the detectives, who did nothing to stop it. They were the only people on the scene other than Burgess and his friends who knew he was innocent, and the Internal Affairs detectives simply watched the arrest, recording it on tape. What’s more, the tape reveals that the detectives knew that they were watching trouble unfolding at the time.

Internal Affairs sergeants Terry Ressin and Robert Morris were sitting in a surveillance vehicle during the sting, and their video camera recorded their discussion as Burgess was accosted by the patrol officers. According to the transcript (which was provided by Ahlers to City Paper, along with the rest of Folio’s records of the case), Ressin remarked, “If they lock him up, we got problems.”

Morris responded that Folio is “supposed to be a decent girl. I think she’ll probably just get numbers for found property and lock him up for [inaudible], all we can hope that anyway.”

Ressin’s retort: “And if not, we’re all screwed.”

As it turned out, Internal Affairs was not screwed, but Folio was—with Burgess as collateral damage. “They know this is illegal,” Ahlers says of the detectives’ recorded conversation as they watched Folio arrest Burgess. “[Internal Affairs] had let a person be unconstitutionally stopped, detained, and arrested. He had no business being stopped because [Internal Affairs] knew, when they gave the description out [to 911], that it was a fiction. They know this is illegal,” he argues emphatically, growing visibly exercised. “Jackie doesn’t know that. She’s been dispatched to a felony in progress!”

What’s more, during Folio’s criminal trial it came to light that this particular test came with a heightened risk of a false arrest built in. Under cross-examination, the Internal Affairs detective who designed the sting, Brian Winder, admitted that the plan was to have Resin call 911 with a description “that mirrors persons in the area and advise . . . that the person described is dealing drugs” (emphasis added), almost guaranteeing the prospect of the false arrest of a passing civilian.

Elsewhere in Winder’s testimony at Folio’s trial, the detective acknowledged that he designed the test without a written manual to help him navigate potential pitfalls—what actions to take should someone be falsely stopped, detained, or arrested as a result of the test. (In July 2004, after Winder left Internal Affairs, he was shot and killed in the line of duty.) Indeed, a federal class-action discrimination lawsuit brought against the department in December 2004 by a large group of African-American officers asserts that “BPD has no written investigatory standards, policy, or training for members of [Internal Affairs].”

Folio says she has read a portion of a 1990s New York Police Department manual for doing internal-affairs stings, which explains what to do when faced with an unexpected problem, such as a false arrest. “It spells out, if it goes bad, what they need to do to stop it,” Folio pointed out.

“Suppose, for example,” Ahlers says, picking up on the theme, “if Officer Folio had pointed a gun at Burgess, would they then interrupt it? I mean, at what point were they willing to say, ‘Jeez, now things have deteriorated to the point that she may use deadly force, maybe now we ought to admit that the suspect is not the felon because it’s a fictitious felony.’”


Unprepared for the complications that arose from the sting gone wrong, BPD began tossing the problem up the chain of command like a hot potato. As Internal Affairs sergeants Ressin and Moore followed the police van that was transporting Burgess to Central Booking, Ressin phoned his supervisor, Lt. Ross Buzzuro. “We gave out a description,” Ressin explained, according to the surveillance-tape transcript, “and they, ah, actually stopped somebody a couple of blocks away, who fit the description and they locked him up.” (Emphasis in the original.)

Then Ressin called the lieutenant colonel in charge of Internal Affairs at the time, George Mitchell, to brief him on the situation. “They actually stopped somebody,” he recounted to Mitchell. “I don’t know yet if they found something on him while they were checking him or if they’re going to charge him with our stash. If it was our stuff,” Ressin added, “then we got problems.” Then, to an inaudible comment made by Mitchell, he responded, “Yeah, that’s what I’m hoping, but if not then we’ll do what we have to do.”

What had to be done, subsequent events make clear, was to stick the whole mess on Folio, based on her statement of charges against Burgess, which was completed by 8:30 p.m. At 10:30 p.m. on March 27, 2003, the evening of the arrest, the department’s then-chief of special projects, Sean Malone, was first contacted about the incident. Twenty minutes later, Mitchell briefed one of his Internal Affairs lieutenants, and sent another to the Southeastern District station house to await shift change, when Folio would be present. At 11:45 p.m., Folio arrived for shift change, and was immediately summoned to her shift commander’s office. By midnight, the Southeastern District commander, Maj. John Long, was advised by Mitchell of Folio’s “impropriety” in writing up an allegedly false report. Minutes later, two Internal Affairs detectives escorted Folio to the Internal Affairs offices to read her her Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights rights. Her police powers were suspended immediately, and she was assigned to work at the Baltimore City Juvenile Detention Center.

Burgess, meanwhile, was locked up at Central Booking, where the booking process was completed by about 8:15 p.m. At 12:45 a.m. on March 28—just as Folio, at Internal Affairs, was being read her Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights rights for having wrongfully arrested him, an innocent man—Burgess was taken out of a group cell at Central Booking and put in a room to be interrogated by Malone, Internal Affairs Lt. Joseph Smith, and Internal Affairs Det. Anthony Vaeth. The interview lasted for 35 minutes. Afterward, Burgess was returned to the cell and remained locked up until 2:45 a.m., when he was finally released and given a lift to his East Baltimore home by Malone, Smith, and Vaeth.

It’s clear from the transcript of that interview that Burgess believed he was officially under arrest when Malone, Smith, and Vaeth interrogated him. Smith even re-read him his Miranda rights on the record, an act that further veiled the fact that the police knew he was innocent, had been wrongfully arrested, and was now being wrongfully held and interrogated. It was then more than six hours after his false arrest, and no one had told him he was free to leave.


Ahlers, during the interview at City Paper right after Folio’s March 17 retirement, says he was particularly shocked at Malone’s conduct in handling Burgess: “His first concern, when he arrived at Central Booking that night, should have been to release Burgess. What he does instead is he scams Burgess by bringing him into a room and giving him Miranda. He knows, if he’s got an ounce of sense, that Internal Affairs has done something grossly unconstitutional here, and illegal, and that the city has liability. And so he takes what they’ve done, and he looks at Jackie Folio’s statement of charges, and he says, ‘Here’s the out. This ambiguous sentence here, we’ll put it on the officer.’

“The proof of that is that they never even call Jackie Folio to figure out the ambiguity. They never even asked her, ‘Is this accurate?’ She’s passed the test they designed. She’s turned in all the drugs, all the money. She has no history of ever getting a complaint. In fact, on the [Internal Affairs] tape one of them says she’s supposed to be a good officer.”

In fact, according to the case record, as the Burgess interrogation was winding down that night, the decision to criminally indict Folio had already been made. At 1:15 in the morning, Lt. Col. Mitchell of Internal Affairs notified Thomas Krehely, the assistant state’s attorney who handles police corruption cases; in turn, Krehely advised Mitchell to “gather info, interview people, and meet week of April 1, 2003 for an indictment.” Folio didn’t know her fate was sealed already. On June 6, 2003,when she waived her Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights rights and gave a voluntary statement, it was because she thought she could avoid indictment.

The morning after the sting, the press coverage began. “The Sunpapers breaks the story,” Ahlers recalls, “that Jackie Folio has committed a crime. That she put drugs on an innocent suspect. And if you compare the stories in the Sunpapers—there are two stories two days in a row—if you compare that, it’s verbatim [from] the Leon Burgess interrogation. Now, who would have leaked that? Well, the department runs this ridiculous theory by me—Leon Burgess called the reporter. The idea that he knows which reporter he should talk to at the Sunpapers to generate an article of interest, and that this was an [Internal Affairs] undercover operation—a fact that was not known to him—is absolutely absurd.”

Folio learned only earlier this year, in preparation for the trial board, that Burgess was interrogated by Malone the night of the sting—a fact that brings up another gripe from Ahlers about how the case was conducted. After the administrative charges were filed and the hearing approached, both sides shared information in a legal process called “discovery,” just as they had before the criminal trial. This time, though, Folio and Ahlers received evidence from the police department that hadn’t been provided to them, as required, during the earlier criminal proceedings. Some of the late-arriving evidence was proving helpful in preparing a strong defense for the trial board, but it also would have helped strengthen Folio’s successful defense before Judge Stewart.

“The transcript [of the Burgess interrogation] was one of the documents that was not produced by the police [before] the criminal trial,” Ahlers stresses. “And the person who makes the decision about what information the police department gives to the state’s attorneys office, who must provide it to the defense, is the chief of legal, Sean Malone. So he intentionally did not disclose that.”

Actually, Malone at that time was not chief of legal—a position department spokesman Matt Jablow says Malone had left in 2002—so the difficulties Ahlers had during the discovery process may not have been Malone’s fault. At the time, Jablow explains, Malone was chief of special projects, a job with vague and wide-ranging duties that even Jablow couldn’t summarize. And yet Malone was closely involved with the Folio case; when Ahlers phoned the department to speak to the chief of legal about Folio’s case, he says he found himself talking to Malone, who, Ahlers says, represented himself as chief of legal.

Malone, now the city’s labor commissioner, did not respond to phone calls or a letter hand-delivered and faxed to his office requesting comment for this story.


Clarke Ahlers has been a lawyer since 1986, but before that he had been with the Howard County Police Department since 1972—initially as a 17-year-old cadet, later as an officer. That helps explain why he was so taken aback when he first spoke with Sean Malone on the phone about the Folio case.

Ahlers says the conversation took place right after Folio had hired him. (Herbert Weiner, an attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police union, represented Folio when she was suspended, right after the incident, but Folio hired Ahlers shortly thereafter.) Having learned the details of Folio’s case, Ahlers decided the best course of action was to tell her side of the story to the department, which might decide that charges weren’t warranted. So he contacted the department’s legal affairs division, asked to talk to its chief, and ended up talking to Sean Malone.

“In my mind I’m picturing a 30-year salty veteran,” Ahlers recalls, “somebody who is a former police officer-turned-lawyer, been around the block, and knows everything there is to know.” In fact, at the time, Malone was 36. When he’d been selected as the BPD’s top attorney in 2000, he’d been a lawyer for 18 months. But he was a close friend and adviser of Mayor Martin O’Malley’s, having managed his election campaigns and been a bartender at McGinn’s (now Mick O’Shea’s) where O’Malley’s Irish rock band often played. Malone’s previous law-enforcement career before becoming BPD’s top legal authority consisted of an approximately six-month stint as a prosecutor in Baltimore County.

Ahlers says he began his initial telephone conversation with Malone by offering to give Folio’s side of the story in hopes of preventing criminal charges. He says Malone cut him off and insisted, in no uncertain terms, that Folio was at fault in wrongfully arresting Burgess, end of story. Ahlers says he countered that his client believed she was making a legitimate arrest thanks to the bogus anonymous tip describing a suspect; Ahlers says he was then shocked to hear the police department’s ostensible top legal expert counter that stopping a citizen under such pretenses was unconstitutional, when in fact, Ahlers points out, it is quite constitutional and standard police practice. Regardless, Ahlers says, Malone was apparently unmoved by the argument and cut the conversation short.

It all adds up, in Ahlers’ mind, to a Malone-inspired attempt to hide Internal Affairs misdeeds. Malone, Ahlers allows, “could fairly evaluate the case and say Jackie Folio did something wrong. Reasonable minds can disagree. And I respect if that’s his belief. And he has a job to do. What I didn’t understand, until recently, was he was engaged all along in protecting [Internal Affairs] from their misconduct. Reasonable minds can’t agree about that. That’s not his job.”

Folio was caught up in a “random integrity test,” ostensibly designed to create a situation that any cop in the vicinity could end up responding to, but she says she wonders how random her test actually was. About a month prior to the Burgess incident, Folio says, she responded as a backup to a very similar (and fruitless) call for drug activity a block from her Southeastern District post. And, she says, her girlfriend, Officer Lisa Olszewski, believes she was the target of a similar test set up two weeks after the Burgess sting. Since Internal Affairs won’t tell officers when or whether they’ve been tested, or if they passed, there’s no way to know for sure if the incidents were, in fact, Internal Affairs integrity tests.

Folio isn’t the only one with questions about the fairness and effectiveness of the methods the BPD uses to police its officers. A group of African-American officers filed a discrimination lawsuit last December against the city and the police department alleging that the department selectively uses disciplinary procedures to discriminate against certain types of officers. The lawsuit’s charges, which go all the way back to 1992, include allegations that Malone, as chief of legal from 2000 to 2002, discriminated by initiating investigations of officers, deciding which charges would be brought or dismissed, and influencing the outcomes of charges against them, including in trial-board matters.

The city’s response to the discrimination lawsuit casts off the allegations as an “attempt to undermine the disciplinary procedures” of the department, and claims that Malone enjoys “absolute immunity for any claim arising from their conduct in initiating and prosecuting disciplinary charges.”

Of course, problems with the department’s self-policing pre-date Malone. A 1996 study by the Baltimore City Community Relations Commission determined that 75 percent of terminated officers were black, even though black officers made up less than half the force. The study also found that 90 percent of black officers who went to department trial board were found guilty, while only 60 percent of white officers called before trial board met the same fate.

The commission’s report prompted a probe by the City Council’s Legislative Investigations Committee, headed at that time by then-Councilman Martin O’Malley. At its conclusion in 1998, O’Malley’s committee issued another report that confirmed widespread disparities in the disciplinary treatment of black and white officers, concluding that the most shameful aspect of the findings was “our failure to root out these problems when they are brought to our attention.”

Steve Kearney, the mayor’s director of policy and communications, says the police department under the O’Malley administration in 2000 started the integrity test program—the very one that netted Folio—as “a direct outcome” of the 1998 report, and that, in addition, the selection of trial board members has become random and less politicized than in the past. Department spokesman Jablow says that the IAD has conducted 460 integrity tests since 2000 and that four officers have failed them. He would not name the officers who failed; presumably, Jackie Folio is one of them.


“I’ve never seen stuff like this,” says a 30-plus-year BPD veteran who spent more than a decade doing internal investigations. He asked not to be named out of fear of retribution before his pending retirement. “It’s really gotten out of control, with the state’s attorney working as an instrument of [Internal Affairs], taking weak cases like Folio’s, indicting, and losing,” the BPD veteran says. “It’s done to harass, embarrass, and coerce [people] into resigning. But I’ve never, ever seen them do what they’re doing to Jackie—abolish some police officer’s position just to avoid letting them have a trial board. It’s profoundly befuddling.”

The “nucleus” of these problems, the veteran agrees, “is Malone, but he’s the mayor’s guy, so nobody steps up and objects.”

The way to make good police-corruption cases, he advises, is to “do them targeted, based on good intelligence—so-and-so’s dirty, so target him and find out. Maybe it takes three, four weeks to set up a targeted, but you end up with good, strong cases—and there are good cases out there to be made.

“But the mayor likes randoms, because it represents numbers,” the veteran continues. “With large numbers of randoms—which take a few days to set up—you can rack up the numbers and say you’re working hard to clean up the department, even though all you’re really doing is taking resources away from targeted cases. With randoms, more times than not, you end up with nothing.”

Former BPD sergeant Andre Street, a 25-year veteran who retired in 1995, remembers how random tests in the past had to be designed for total control of the environment. For example, Internal Affairs detectives might have planted a couple of joints in plain view on the floorboards of a patrol car: “They’d watch, do [the officers] follow procedures? Do they keep it, whether for personal use or as drop items to pin charges on a suspect? It was controlled because it didn’t put citizens at risk. Whatever you do you should do without involving the public. You have to plan for every contingency and be prepared to pull the plug at any time and say, ‘The gig’s up.’”

Ahlers, too, has a few ideas about how better to go about catching corrupt police. “Almost every study ever done about police corruption,” he asserts, “says that you look at the vice and narcotics units, not patrol. If you’re trying to find out if police officers get free coffee at 7-Eleven, yeah, maybe patrol officers are involved in that. But if you are looking for who is protecting organizations of criminals, you have to look at units that go after organized crime. At that level, what the criminal wants to know is, can they pay somebody for information or can they pay somebody for protection, and that’s really not going to happen at the uniformed officer patrol level.

“There are a lot of ways they could do this. Instead, they end up doing Jackie Folio and trying to cover up their own culpability.”


In the Folio case, a poorly planned and executed random sting netted a police officer allegedly lying in charging documents and inadvertently raised questions that cut right to the heart of how police are policed in this town. But what happened to Burgess, the falsely arrested suspect? His post-sting story suggests even more problems.

On April 15, 2003, about two weeks after the Folio sting, Burgess allegedly sold drugs to an undercover officer on the 3700 block of East Pratt Street and was charged with conspiracy theft. On July 24 of that year, the state’s attorney declined to prosecute the charges. On May 1, 2003, Burgess earned assault and deadly-weapon charges thanks to his alleged connection with a large, drug-related fracas in the 3600 block of Eastern Avenue, but the state’s attorney declined to prosecute those charges, either. On Aug. 28, 2003, Burgess was charged with indecent exposure when he allegedly tried to force his way—while openly masturbating—into a woman’s home on the 2000 block of East Baltimore Street as she tried to stop him. The state’s attorney declined to take those charges to court, as well. On Oct. 29, 2003, Burgess was stopped on Conkling Street in Highlandtown after police say they observed him throw suspected drugs to the ground, and then, after searching him, found more drugs. The possession charge against him resulting from the incident was not pursued by the state’s attorney’s office. Burgess accrued all of these charges prior to his giving testimony at the December 2003 criminal trial of Jackie Folio.

Burgess’ attorney, William Buie, tells City Paper he advises his client, who is currently locked up and awaiting trial on several violent charges, including rape, not to talk to the paper while the current charges are pending. Assistant State’s Attorney Thomas Krehely had not returned calls by press time requesting an interview regarding the past charges against Burgess, or any deal police and prosecutors may have struck with him.

Burgess seems to have enjoyed extraordinary luck in avoiding any recriminations for a time, but police and prosecutors have managed to force Folio to retire, even when they failed to prove she was criminally culpable for pinning false charges on Burgess. And now, with Commissioner Hamm having retracted his order forcing her to retire, it is possible Folio may be asked to return to duty and then fired by the department if she fails to comply.

On April 4, department spokesman Jablow told City Paper that, in fact, Folio’s trial board hearing had been rescheduled for later this month—and trial boards are only held in matters involving police officers, not retired police officers. Moreover, as this story was going to press on April 5, the spokesman issued a written statement denying that Folio’s being made the patsy for the department’s failures.

“Agent Folio’s allegations of a conspiracy are entirely untrue,” BPD’s statement reads. “The truth is that she has been charged administratively with making a false statement—a statement that resulted in an innocent man being arrested. The citizens of Baltimore demand and deserve better. In light of these charges, an internal hearing board will soon be convened to determine if Agent Folio violated police department policy.”

Folio laughs when told over the phone about the rescheduled hearing—BPD told the press about it before notifying her. “Isn’t that lovely?” she jokes. Then the laughter stops, and her voice turns serious and sad.

“I feel like I’m in an abusive domestic relationship,” she says. “I never thought I’d be going out like this.”

Accidental Justice: Despite Foe’s Best Efforts, a Controversial Real-Estate Investor Gets Light Treatment in Drunk-Driving Case

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, July 7, 2004


Nicholas Piscatelli has made a few enemies, judging by his long history of Baltimore court battles. One of those enemies, Wayne Gioioso, recently went the extra mile to try to make Piscatelli feel a little pain.

The two are embroiled in a dispute over property in Hampden, but Piscatelli—who also owns the Redwood Trust building, the former downtown bank-cum-nightclub that has been at the center of a variety of controversies (Mobtown Beat, April 28, 2004; Mobtown Beat, June 11, 2003)—has a weak spot. He’s had a drunk-driving case—his second after a 1996 conviction—hanging over his head since his arrest in February 2003. So in the weeks leading up to his June 30 Baltimore City Circuit Court trial, Gioioso says he worked behind the scenes to make sure prosecutors were informed of what he believes are pertinent facts about Piscatelli’s driving record.

“I’m doing a background on him because he sued me,” Gioioso explained in an interview. “And I found out about numerous things Piscatelli’s involved in, and also this drunk-driving case. And I found out that he has another driver’s license in Virginia, even though his Maryland license has been restricted. The judge should know this, because if the judge restricts his Maryland license, it’s not going to affect his driving. If he gets pulled over, he’ll just produce his Virginia license, get his ticket, and go on his merry way.”

Which is exactly what Piscatelli did on Dec. 8, 2003, according to the state Motor Vehicle Administration records. That’s when he was pulled over in downtown Baltimore for not wearing a seat belt and gave the officer a Virginia license with a Springfield address. He subsequently failed to appear for a hearing on the seat-belt violation and failed to pay the $25 fine; his Virginia license is now suspended.

If Piscatelli had handed the officer his Maryland license, the officer might have noticed that it bore a 24-year alcohol restriction, banning him from having any amount of alcohol in his system while behind the wheel, and perhaps performed a field sobriety test.

In May 2003, Piscatelli had been found guilty in District Court of a drunk-driving charge arising from a Feb. 2, 2003, incident, in which, according to the state’s Criminal Justice Information System, Piscatelli’s 2001 BMW was involved in an accident at 2:16 a.m. and whoever was behind the wheel fled the scene. Fifteen hours later, after Baltimore police had caught up with Piscatelli, they administered a breathalyzer test showing he had a blood-alcohol reading of 0.07, just above the legal limit. Piscatelli faced three charges: leaving the scene of an accident, driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and driving while impaired. The first two charges were dropped, and Piscatelli was convicted on the third, leading to the alcohol restriction on his license. In July 2003, the Circuit Court dismissed his subsequent appeal of that conviction.

The recent case was his second involving allegations of intoxicated driving. On Dec. 1, 1995, Howard County court records show, Piscatelli was pulled over on Interstate 70 at Route 32 after a police officer saw his car “swerving in its lane, crossing over the lines, and cutting off other vehicles.” He failed three field sobriety tests, and a search of his car turned up three vials, two of them containing cocaine. Piscatelli pleaded guilty to drug possession and driving under the influence and was granted probation before judgment. He has since tried twice unsuccessfully to have the convictions expunged.

Having previously informed the prosecutors about Piscatelli’s Virginia license—both over the phone, and with documents handed over to them just prior to trial—Gioioso says he attended a June 30 hearing on the charge stemming from the February 2003 arrest to see what would happen. But first off, he explains, he was confused as to why Piscatelli was getting another crack at the case after the conviction and dismissed appeal from last year. In February of this year—six months after the dismissal of his appeal—Piscatelli filed a motion to reinstate his appeal, which was granted in April by Circuit Court Judge Lynn Stewart. The argument for reopening the case was that the state has not properly notified Piscatelli of the hearing date last July. (Neither Piscatelli, his attorney Peter Prevas, nor the three prosecutors who handled the case would discuss the matter for this article.)

Gioioso, a longtime member of Baltimore County’s Judicial Nominating Commission who recently was made chairman by Gov. Robert Ehrlich, also said he spoke with Baltimore City State’s Attorney Patricia Jessamy about the case. Her spokesman, Joe Sviatko, told City Paper that “she’s not going to comment on this. But it all has been brought to the attention of the appropriate supervisors” in the State’s Attorneys Office.

“I even called MADD about this guy,” Gioioso fumed, referring to the anti-drunk-driving group Mothers Against Drunk Driving. “But they didn’t make it to the hearing.”

All Gioioso’s efforts came to naught, as he witnessed the state’s case against Piscatelli collapse into a plea deal.

“I am more than reluctant to even consider probation before judgment for this case,” declared Circuit Court Judge Martha Rasin as she dished out precisely that light punishment for Piscatelli’s crime. The reason: Prosecutors could not produce a record of the breathalyzer results. “Mainly because of the state of the evidence,” Rasin continued, “if it went to trial, it is likely that the state would not prevail. But this probation is just as real as if the evidence were overwhelming.” Piscatelli walked out of Rasin’s courtroom with his previous sentence overturned and replaced with a $200 fine, 18 months of supervised probation, an alcohol restriction on his Maryland driver’s license (of a length to be determined by the MVA, the judge specified), and orders to complete an alcohol counseling program.

When it all was said and done, Gioioso asked for an opportunity to address the judge in the courtroom, to which she responded shortly, “No, this is not an open forum.”

“I don’t think she would’ve ruled the way she did if she’d known” about Piscatelli’s Virginia license, Gioioso asserted after the proceedings were over. “And I think it was totally improper for the prosecutors not to advise the judge, since they had that information.”

Assistant State’s Attorney Roya Hanna, who handled the case before Rasin, had only this to say of Piscatelli’s Virginia license, as she stood in the courthouse hallway after the hearing was over: “But that has nothing to do with my case.”

Gioioso, though, is not done with it; he’s already contacted Virginia authorities. “I think they’ll find it interesting that Piscatelli, who already has a Maryland license, also has a Virginia license,” he says, adding that the commonwealth became famous for fake driver’s licenses after some of the Sept. 11 hijackers were found to have obtained Virginia licenses. “They apparently have a problem with that down there.”

Deadwood Bust: Redwood Trust Nightclub Deal Goes to the Courts

By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, Apr. 28, 2004


The past year has been a tumultuous one for Nicholas Argyros Piscatelli, the real-estate investor and developer who’s spent millions since 1999 turning a historic downtown bank building into a high-end nightclub called Redwood Trust. In April 2003, in a crime that is still unsolved, the club’s manager and one of its regular patrons were gunned down execution-style in the manager’s rented Fells Point rowhouse. Then, in May, the 54-year-old Piscatelli was convicted of drunken driving and barred for 24 years from getting behind the wheel with any amount of alcohol in his system. In June, he filed plans with the city liquor board to sell the nightclub business to one of the club’s DJs for $350,000, but that deal fell through without explanation from either Piscatelli or the DJ, Leonard Kern.

Another buyer emerged in August 2003: Omar Haughton, a 20-year-old from Ellicott City, who slapped down $200,000 in cash toward the total (and greatly inflated) price tag of $1,145,000, signed a promissory note for the balance, and renamed the club the Mint. The transaction rapidly soured and is now in the courts, with Piscatelli and Haughton suing one another amid accusations of conspiracies, lies, and coercion with threats of armed violence.

Piscatelli’s company, Redwood Trust LLC, sued first. On Jan. 7, it asked the Baltimore City Circuit Court to order Haughton and his company, Trustville LLC, to pay Redwood $1,100,495–the sum of the unpaid balance for the purchase of the club, plus late charges and litigation costs. The next day, the court granted the order.

But a month later, on Feb. 9, Haughton asked the court to vacate the order, arguing that the promissory note he signed was superseded by another one for $75,000 that Piscatelli signed in November 2003. In fact, Haughton contended through his attorney, Mike Henderson, that both notes were “obtained by fraud” and should be voided, allowing Haughton and his company to defend themselves in court–and also to countersue.

In mid February, Piscatelli’s attorney, Scott Tinney, responded to Haughton’s claim by alleging that the $75,000 note “was signed under duress in that Mr. Haughton forced Nicholas Piscatelli . . . to sign . . . with at least three armed individuals present.”

Attached to Tinney’s response was an affidavit from Piscatelli.

“On November 20, 2003, at the request of Omar Haughton, Paul Chrzanowski [Piscatelli’s partner in Redwood Trust] and I went to the Redwood Trust to discuss the now past due note payment” owed by Haughton’s company to Piscatelli, the affidavit states. It continues to describe how, after Piscatelli and Chrzanowski took seats in Haughton’s office, “at least three masked individuals with guns entered the room and stood behind Mr. Chrzanowski and me. Mr. Haughton stated that I was now going to sign new documents for what he deemed the club to be really worth.”

Piscatelli’s affidavit says that the reason he signed the $75,000 note was because he “believed that if I did not sign . . . I would be subjected to bodily harm.”

The alleged incident was committed to a police report, which was not submitted in the court case but was obtained from the Baltimore Police Department by City Paper. It reflects that the events in question took place on Nov. 25, not on Nov. 20 as Piscatelli stated in his affidavit. At that time, according to the police report, Piscatelli told police that Haughton and three masked men–one with a 10-inch-by-4-inch knife, one with a semiautomatic handgun, and one with “cocaine in a paper towel”–threatened him and Chrzanowski with the weapons while asking them to sample the drugs. Piscatelli told the police he signed the new note when they “made a threat to kill” him, adding that they proceeded to take $500 cash and his Maryland driver’s license out of his wallet before sending him and Chrzanowski on their way.

“Omar [Haughton] says the police report is false,” Henderson said in a recent interview with City Paper. “The whole thing was a conspiracy to get Omar in [as the business owner], relieve him of his money, then kick him out. And that’s how it stands.”

Haughton’s company was evicted from the Redwood Trust property over the winter, and its assets were sold to Piscatelli’s company at an April 7 auction.

“Piscatelli now has $200,000 of Omar’s money and his club back,” Henderson notes.

Neither Tinney nor Piscatelli returned messages left at their offices for this article.

Haughton’s claim of fraud was sufficient for the court, which vacated its earlier judgment against him. Now, he is countersuing over the matter. On April 20, Haughton and Trustville filed suit alleging that Piscatelli, Chrzanowski, and their lawyer, Melvin Kodenski, conspired to keep Haughton in the dark about the club’s revenues, duping him into purchasing it at “a greatly inflated price.” According to the complaint, they then held Haughton to a promissory note and rent obligations “they knew could not be paid from operation of the business”–although they told him otherwise–with the ultimate goal of taking Haughton’s $200,000 deposit and “regaining the business and the premises.” Haughton seeks to recover approximately $350,000 from Piscatelli and his co-conspirators, plus $2 million in punitive damages from Piscatelli, Redwood Trust LLC, and Kodenski.

Haughton also claims damages of $2 million arising from the police reports about the masked men filed by Piscatelli and Chrzanowski, reports that Haughton contends they knew to be false.

“A search warrant was executed [and] no weapons or contraband were found,” the complaint asserts, adding that Haughton “subsequently met with the police and the State’s Attorney to respond to the allegations. No charges have been or are expected to be filed.”

Finally, Haughton seeks $350,000 and another $2 million in punitive damages from Kodenski for legal malpractice. The complaint alleges that Kodenski represented both Piscatelli and Haughton in the nightclub transaction but failed to provide meaningful “care and diligence in handling the purchase” on behalf of Haughton. Kodenski did not return messages left at his office for comment.

Henderson expects to take the case to a jury trial, which has been scheduled for next April.

God • Family • Republic: Pasadena Attorney Michael Peroutka is the Constitution Party’s Favored Candidate for President of the United States. Is it a Match Made in Heaven?

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Mar. 17, 2004


Michael’s Eighth Avenue, the Glen Burnie catering hall, is famous for drawing thirsty crowds to such earthy attractions as its regular “Ballroom Boxing” night, a sweaty mix of bouts, babes, and beer. On the afternoon Saturday, Feb. 21, though, it hosted a decidedly more devout affair: the announcement that Michael Anthony Peroutka, a Pasadena attorney, is seeking the 2004 presidential nomination of the 12-year-old arch-conservative Constitution Party. The party has secured a spot on November’s ballot in a dozen states so far, though not in Maryland, and Peroutka won nearly 25,000 votes in California’s March 2 primary.

Peroutka, with his brother Stephen G. Peroutka, runs the debt-collections law firm Peroutka and Peroutka, as well as the firm’s educational-outreach arm, the Institute on the Constitution, which sells 12-week seminar kits about the biblical perspective on the U.S. Constitution for $145. If he is voted the party’s nominee at its late-June convention in Valley Forge, Pa., the history books say he’ll be the first third-party presidential candidate from Maryland on general election ballots since Joshua Levering of the Prohibition Party in 1896.

“If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” Peroutka rhetorically asked the Michael’s Eighth Avenue gathering of about 300 faithful, his dark suit and well-groomed sandy-gray hair lending a sensible air to his fundamentalist zeal. “We must not flee to the mountains,” he answered, citing a verse from Psalms, but instead “stand and fight” and “rebuild the foundations,” as did King David in the Old Testament.

“This is not a time for despair and discouragement,” he railed. “This is a time for discernment and decisive action! . . . This is why I am seeking the presidential nomination of the Constitution Party. I want, with your help, to call this country back to its original, godly constitutional greatness!”

Peroutka, like the Constitution Party itself, toes a well-defined line when it comes to matters of dogma. As his 20-minute speech made clear, he believes that the federal government routinely ignores the dictates of the U.S. Constitution, which he contends is a biblically grounded document written by divinely inspired Founding Fathers. Chronic, long-term erosion of these godly constitutional foundations, he believes, is advancing society’s moral decay, a trend made especially evident in what he calls “attacks” on the family, such as abortion, homosexuality, and gay marriage. The task for Peroutka and the Constitution Party, he says, is to fight the forces of decay and to present a loud, growing, and unwavering political voice to challenge the major parties. Taking jabs at President George W. Bush for his “failure to lead” on abortion, his “reckless” government spending, and his “unconstitutional” war on Iraq is a current staple of Constitution Party oratory.

“People may say, ‘Don’t you know you can’t win, don’t have a chance?'” Peroutka declared earnestly from Michael’s balloon-adorned stage. “But I just don’t believe in chance. I believe in divine providence. . . . With God, all things are possible.”

“The themes of our campaign are God, family, republic,” he continued. “In short, we are called to honor the sovereignty of God, defend the American family, and restore the American republic. The God of the Bible must be first because–well, because He says so.”

After God, Peroutka continued, comes family–an issue of central importance to the Peroutka campaign and the Constitution Party as a whole. Before Peroutka’s speech, party luminary William Shearer, a lapsed Republican who founded late presidential candidate and Alabama governor George Wallace’s American Independent Party in 1968, had praised the Peroutkas for having “created that thing which we stand for as a party–the family.” Shearer admired the couple’s “three lovely children”–Beth, Patrick, and Timothy, all teenagers, who took the stage with their father and mother. Spear Lancaster, the 2002 Libertarian Party candidate for Maryland’s governorship, was there and commented afterward that the Peroutkas “seem like the archetypal Christian-type family”–an image that is reinforced by a family portrait on the Peroutka’s campaign Web site.

So, up on the stage, Peroutka put particular emphasis on family issues. Whereas government exists simply and exclusively to “secure and protect God-given rights” of citizens, he said, most politicians fail to comprehend this, suggesting instead that government exists for a myriad of other, extraneous reasons: “to create a level playing field” in society, or “to maintain the infrastructure,” or “to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves.”

Or to “take care of the children of the state,” Peroutka added. He then paused as Albion Knight, a retired U.S. Army general and conservative radio commentator from Gaithersburg who was sitting in the audience after having made an earlier speech, suddenly shouted, “Not mine!” Approving chuckles rippled across the room.

“We love that one, don’t we?” Peroutka continued, remarking sarcastically that “I didn’t know the state had any children.”

The crowd was audibly amused. The reaction, though, may have been different had it been known that in the early 1990s Peroutka and his wife, Diane, forced her two teenaged daughters from an earlier marriage–Dawn and Holly Hubbard–to become wards of the state foster-care system until the age of 18. (Diane Peroutka’s previous husband died of cancer in 1978.) This happened after Dawn told members of her Catholic youth group and her basketball coach at McDonogh School that she recalled sexual abuse at the hands of Michael Peroutka from when she was 9–memories that were not substantiated in an ensuing state investigation, and which she later recanted. And it happened after Holly, who suffered from learning disabilities and a troubled relationship with her stepfather, displayed behavioral problems.

The Peroutkas transferred parental responsibilities for Dawn Hubbard to the State of Maryland on her 17th birthday, May 1, 1992, and Holly met the same fate on the day after Thanksgiving 1992, when she was 15. The sisters, now in their late 20s and living outside of Maryland, say they never wanted to be estranged from their mother and have tried without success to reconcile with her several times since being removed from the Peroutka household more than a decade ago.


Many of these facts were uncovered when a cursory Google search led to a 1997 Maryland Court of Special Appeals opinion that rejected Michael and Diane Peroutka’s libel claims against Dawn and Holly Hubbard’s state social worker, Marsha Streng. The alleged defamatory statement was made by Streng in her Towson office on Jan. 12, 1995, when Diane Peroutka showed up, Dawn Hubbard in tow, and angrily and repeatedly demanded to know whether Streng thought she was an emotionally abused spouse. Diane Peroutka had been moved to confront Streng when, during a conciliatory lunch with Dawn Hubbard earlier that day in Towson, she saw that her daughter had an informational packet about emotional abuse that Streng had mailed her daughter, then in college and majoring in psychology. Confronted by Diane Peroutka, Streng at first repeatedly refused to answer the question, but ultimately said yes. Diane Peroutka told her husband what Streng had said, and Dawn Hubbard told Holly about it as well. Nine months later, in October 1995, the couple sued Streng for libel.

The libel case was rejected at the first opportunity by the Baltimore County Circuit Court a year later, when the judge held that Streng’s statement was “an opinion . . . given at specific request to give an opinion. That cannot constitute defamation.” The Peroutkas appealed, and lost again. The appellate court opinion, filed in June 1997, said that “because all the persons who received the alleged defamatory statement knew the underlying facts of the conflicts within this family . . . Streng is not subject to liability, although, as with any opinion, [the Peroutkas are] free to disagree. We hold that the statement . . . was not defamatory.” The court also ordered the Peroutkas to pay the state’s costs for the year and a half it spent defending Streng from the claims.

Since Streng’s statement was about the Peroutkas’ family life, by suing her they opened up their family history to public examination via documents, affidavits, and depositions gathered for Peroutka v. Streng. According to those case records, on May 13, 1992, two weeks after the Peroutkas placed Dawn Hubbard in state custody, Michael Peroutka petitioned for a court order barring Dawn from having any further contact with the Peroutka family or from approaching their Baltimore County townhouse. When Dawn’s state-appointed lawyer, Anna Davis, successfully warded off the attempted restraining order by arguing that Michael Peroutka had no standing to petition the court because he had never adopted Dawn and was not her natural father, he filed an amended petition, this time with his wife, and won.

Dawn Hubbard, once in the hands of the state, had to rely on Social Security for financial support. At first, her checks were sent to the Peroutkas’ home, and Streng, in late June 1992, sent Diane Peroutka a letter asking for them. Diane Peroutka responded in writing that the money was used to pay bills, especially attorneys fees, “which have escalated far beyond the income I received for Dawn. . . . This expense was accrued because of the lies and problems caused by Dawn, and her Social Security check must pay for this.”

In the summer of that year, the case record reflects that Diane Peroutka, with her husband’s help and guidance, launched a letter-writing campaign. She sent approximately 1,000 letters to anyone who may have heard about Dawn Hubbard’s sexual abuse allegations–the Peroutkas’ friends and neighbors, for instance, as well as parents and neighbors of Dawn’s schoolmates–alerting them to her daughter’s mental and emotional condition and implying that her daughter might pose a threat to the community. That fall, when Dawn was hospitalized for a severe eating disorder, neither of her parents visited her.

The following spring, as she was being treated by Johns Hopkins Medical psychiatrist Dr. Paul McHugh, Dawn Hubbard began to doubt the veracity of her memories of sexual abuse. By the fall of 1993, she was convinced they weren’t real, but the result of a phenomenon known as false-memory syndrome. When Dawn attempted to deliver a letter to that effect to her parents, Diane Peroutka had her arrested for trespassing; Diane Peroutka had tried to do the same to to a visiting Holly Hubbard in June 1993, but the police wouldn’t charge Holly. Shortly thereafter, Dawn appeared on the Phil Donohue Show with representatives from the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, and recanted her sexual abuse allegations to a national television audience. Still, the Peroutkas have rebuffed Dawn and Holly Hubbard’s subsequent attempts at reconciliation.

The family crisis, while quieted since the libel suit ended in 1997, is still unresolved. Dawn Hubbard, now 28 with bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Bucknell University, works as a guidance counselor for female minors in the Pennsylvania correctional system. She explained when contacted recently that she and her sister, now a waitress living in Connecticut who is preparing for her August wedding, remain estranged from the Peroutkas.

Holly Hubbard submitted affidavits in Peroutka v. Streng that reflect the emotional toll exacted by her experiences with Michael Peroutka, who she believed controlled Diane Peroutka’s actions toward her daughters and forced his wife to end relationships with her family and friends from before their marriage. In the sworn statements, Holly recalled “several occasions when my stepfather would mash my face into the floor, sit on me to restrain me, push me against a wall, and pull my hair while demanding that I call myself a ‘slut.'” “I believe,” Holly continued, “that when my mother put me in foster care and refused to visit me or talk to me, it was because of pressure from my stepfather.”

In the past, Michael Peroutka has sidestepped any personal responsibility for the couple’s handling of Diane’s stepdaughters, whom he never legally adopted. “Certainly I discussed it with my wife, but it wasn’t my decision to make,” he explained in a 1996 deposition. “They were her daughters.”

A decidedly different take on Michael Peroutka’s role in his stepdaughters’ treatment was expressed by McHugh, the psychiatrist who helped Dawn Hubbard determine that her memories were false and the only doctor with whom the Peroutkas agreed to consult with during Dawn’s care at Hopkins. In a 1996 affidavit, McHugh stated that in his opinion Diane Peroutka “has been subjected to excessive emotional pressure by her husband to act in ways she otherwise would not act . . . contrary to her own best interests and those of her daughters.”

In a 1993 telephone conversation with the Hubbard sisters’ attorney, Anna Davis, case records show, McHugh was even more condemning, saying he was “disgusted by the Peroutkas’ behavior,” particularly that of Michael Peroutka, whom he described as “brutish.” “The truth will come out,” McHugh is recorded as saying. “It always does.”

In an e-mail response to written questions provided by City Paper, Peroutka maintains that the family turmoil as Dawn and Holly Hubbard were forced out of the house “was exasperated by the prejudicial attitude and professional incompetence of certain employees of our local social services department. I joined my wife in filing a lawsuit for defamation against one of the social workers that we believed acted with intent to harm our reputations and our family relationships. All of this was long ago.

“I fully support and appreciate my wife’s decisions and actions during that most difficult time, and ever since. Her desire to protect and defend our family, and to restore her troubled children, is fully shared by me. We have both, long ago, forgiven her daughters and others who, we believed, sought to harm them and us, and we pray and hope for their restoration.”


The traditional family values, limited-government platform of Michael Peroutka and the Constitution Party appears to clash headlong with the reality that he stood by, and possibly encouraged, his wife as she forced her daughters out of their home and transferred parental responsibilities for them to Maryland’s social services bureaucracy–an entity whose very existence is questionable under Constitution Party doctrine about the role of government. “Parents have the fundamental right and responsibility to nurture, educate, and discipline their children,” the party’s platform states. “Assumption of any of these responsibilities by any governmental agency usurps the role of the parents.”

Meanwhile, the libel case record of Peroutka’s alleged abusive behavior toward his wife and stepdaughters seems to flout the Constitution Party’s platform on “Character and Moral Conduct,” which states that “our party leaders and public officials must display exemplary qualities of . . . moral uprightness . . . self-restraint . . . kindness, and compassion. If they cannot be trusted in private life, neither can they be trusted in public life.”

“I don’t believe that my personal views diverge from the Constitution Party’s platform or mission,” reads Peroutka’s e-mailed response to a question about these apparent inconsistencies. “As a believer in the Lordship of Christ I know that there is a fixed and eternal standard of right and wrong and that I am a fallible, fallen creature who falls short every day. Alone, I am not capable of ‘reconciling’ any chapter, or moment of my life. I believe that it is through the saving work of Christ that we are reconciled to Him and each other.”

Peroutka’s potential image problems as a candidate for the nation’s top elected office don’t end with his home life, though. There’s also the matter of his legally questionable political donations over the past few years.

The issue first surfaced on Oct. 6, 2003, when the public interest group Common Cause Maryland issued a report on political donors from Anne Arundel County who illegally exceeded the state limits on political contributions: no more than $4,000 to any one campaign committee and no more than $10,000 overall from any given contributor during a four-year reporting cycle. Peroutka was one of four individuals, and his firm one of 10 businesses, that had given more than the limits, Common Cause reported.

Shortly after Common Cause released its report, State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli’s office opened a criminal investigation. The prosecutor opted not to bring charges against Michael Peroutka or its firm. “They brought themselves into compliance,” senior assistant state prosecutor Steven Trostle explained to City Paper, adding that on Dec. 8 he sent them letters closing the case and “warning them” that more violations would be treated more seriously.

In order to come into compliance, Peroutka and his firm relied on the good graces of the Maryland Constitution Party, which on Nov. 17, according to state campaign finance records, returned $3,230 of the $3,500 Michael Peroutka had given the party, and $2,200 of the $2,500 Peroutka and Peroutka had contributed. These transactions brought the total amount Peroutka and his firm had contributed to all state campaign committees to below the $10,000 limit. Though several other campaign committees–those of state senators Alex Mooney (R-3rd District) and Andrew Harris (R-7) and state delegates Emmett Burns (D-10) and Carmen Armedori (R-5A)–had also received substantial financial support from Peroutka and his law firm, only the Maryland Constitution Party returned contributions to make things right again under the law for them.

Montanarelli may have more in store for Michael Peroutka on the campaign finance front. On Aug. 22, 2002, Michael and Diane Peroutka’s three children, then between the ages of 11 and 15, donated $4,000 each to the campaign of state Sen. Nancy Jacobs (R-34), one of the state GOP’s staunchest conservatives, who at the time was facing a tough race in her Harford County district. “It’s never come up before,” Montanarelli said recently of the scenario. “But I have a problem with that one. You can’t evade the donation limits by having children making donations. It would probably be a violation, and we could probably prove that it came from their parent or parents.”

Asked by e-mail whether the money his children donated was theirs, whether or not he gave the money to them, and whether or not he prompted them to make the donations, Michael Peroutka responded, “I am confident that my children followed the law.”

Public records reveal another foible of a sort that has proved thorny for politicians in the past. In December 1991, Michael Peroutka was caught driving with an illegally high concentration of alcohol in his system. The result: probation before judgment and a month of restricted driving privileges. When asked if the episode was in any way inconsistent with the Constitution Party’s platform, which calls for its leaders to practice “temperance,” Peroutka gave the same answer as that regarding his relationship with his stepdaughters–that he is “fallible,” and that reconciliation of his personal behavior with party doctrine can only be accomplished “through the saving work of Christ.”


The evolution of Michael Peroutka from a dozen years ago, when he was struggling with his stepdaughters and living in a townhouse, into a prominent arch-conservative politician with a house on a half-acre in Millersville’s Brittingham development, a property assessed at $580,000, is a hard subject to nail down. But the changes have been marked.

Perhaps the most fundamental change in Peroutka is the fact that he is no longer with the Roman Catholic Church. The Peroutka v. Streng libel case records indicate that Catholicism was once a central part of his life. Many of Dawn Hubbard’s conflicts with her stepfather had been over religion, her 1996 deposition revealed, including a “confrontational problem” over her resistance to becoming a confirmed Catholic, a church ceremony to which she ultimately submitted after Peroutka “chastised” her. Since then, though, he joined the Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church, which worships at a Seventh-day Adventist facility in Pasadena.

Like many fundamentalist churches, the Free Evangelical Church of America, of which Cornerstone is a part, is known for its strict prohibitive stances on abortion and homosexuality and for its very literal reading of the Bible. And Cornerstone’s ties to politics are strong. The state Constitution Party’s Web site promotes Cornerstone as a “Constitutionally aware church” and provides a link to the church’s Web site. Cornerstone’s pastor, David Whitney, ran unsuccessfully in 2002 for Republican State Central Committee in Maryland’s 30th District and is also a donor to the state Constitution Party. Prior to running for public office, he had become locally renowned for helping to organize anti-abortion protests, replete with a woman in a Grim Reaper costume and poster-sized pictures of aborted fetuses, in front of a clinic on Ritchie Highway in Severna Park that provides abortion services.

Whitney also edits and writes for the monthly newsletter of the Peroutkas’ Institute on the Constitution, for which he penned a lengthy treatise titled “The Most Misused and Abused Amendment of the Constitution,” denouncing the U.S. government’s application of the 14th Amendment, which ended slavery and codified the principles of due process and equal protection under the law.

Alongside Peroutka’s evolving beliefs has come greater wealth. Peroutka and Peroutka’s Anne Arundel County personal property tax payments, records of which are available on the state’s online database, indicates that the law firm has been growing fast. In 1995, Peroutka and Peroutka owed $6,300 in such taxes, which are levied on a business’ furniture, equipment, inventory, and the like. By 2003, the amount had increased to $180,000.

Another indication of Peroutka’s improved cash flow is the amount he has invested in politics. Since 1999, Peroutka has given nearly $80,000 to Maryland and federal campaign committees. Much of it–nearly $55,000–went to federal Constitution Party accounts, with the rest allotted to various local and national politicians from both the Republican and Constitution parties. In addition, during the same time frame Peroutka and Peroutka gave $15,000, and Stephen Peroutka gave $50,000, to Maryland and federal campaign committees, $36,000 of it to the Constitution Party National Committee. Diane Peroutka, too, chipped in just over $5,000, $2,500 of it to the anti-gay-rights activist group Take Back Maryland. In all, the three Peroutkas and the firm have given about $150,000 to political campaigns since 1999. And that amount doesn’t include the $12,000 the three Peroutka children gave to Nancy Jacobs’ re-election effort in 2002. Nor does it take into account the $87,000 the Peroutka brothers and their firm spent underwriting a 2002 television and print advertising campaign urging Maryland voters to “vote pro-life.”

To put these sums in perspective, the Peroutkas are nowhere near Peter Angelos’ league–the Orioles owner and super-lawyer has made just over $3 million in federal-level donations since 1997–but surpass Baltimore bakery magnate and real-estate developer John Paterakis, who has given just shy of $35,000 to federal campaign accounts since 1997.

Asked about the origins of his wealth and consequent ability to make large political donations, Peroutka writes, “I am thankful to God from whom all blessings flow.”


Peroutka’s earliest political investment speaks volumes of where he was heading: into a tightly knit world of right-wing political activity on the outer edge of the Republican Party and, ultimately, a very small circle of rainmaking Constitution Party backers.

On the federal level, Peroutka’s first recorded donation was on Oct. 15, 1999, when $250 sent from his Ritchie Highway office–it was entered in the ledger-books as having come from “Peroutka P.A.”–arrived in Katy, Texas, where it landed in the short-lived and little-used bank account of the Draft Steve Stockman for Congress Committee. “I vaguely remember this donation,” Peroutka explains in his e-mail, “but do not remember what prompted it.”

Stockman, an accountant and former one-term Republican congressman who lost a bid for re-election in 1996, was known for his defense of the militia movement and his adamant pro-gun stance. In the fall of 1999, after having lost a bid for a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission a year earlier, Stockman was working as a highly paid consultant, earning $250,000 in fees advising the congressional campaign of Texas Republican Mark Brewer, who lost the following spring’s primary. But Peroutka and a small group of like-minded Stockman supporters were hoping to draw Stockman back into running for federal office again.

Other than Peroutka, 15 individuals from around the country donated $7,000 in itemized contributions (an equal amount was collected in small, unitemized amounts) to the draft-Stockman campaign based in Katy, which raised funds only for a single month in the fall of 1999. (A defining moment for Katy, population 10,000, came the following summer, when seven local men held a cross-burning on the property of one of the town’s few black families, and were subsequently convicted of federal hate crimes.) Among Peroutka’s co-donors to the low-profile campaign were three individuals whose backgrounds place them on the extreme edge of conservative politics–a place where Peroutka, nearly five years later, is now established as a leader and benefactor.

Joining Peroutka in the draft-Stockman campaign was James R. Lightner, a wealthy Dallas businessman who in the spring of 2000 joined an elite club of about 100 people who contributed to former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke’s flash-in-the-pan stab at an open congressional seat in Louisiana. Another name on the list of contributors was Chris Cupit, a right-wing political functionary from Louisiana who gained notoriety as a partner in GOP Marketplace, a Virginia-based consulting firm that was caught undermining Democrats’ get-out-the-vote efforts in New Hampshire on Election Day 2002 by subcontracting with an Idaho phone-calling firm to jam the Democrats’ phone-bank lines with continuous hang-ups. Also on the list was Robert G. Wheaton of San Antonio, who in 1995 was elected to the seven-member Committee of Safety of the Southern Region of the Texas Constitutional Militia, one of Texas’ two main militia organizations. (According to the Austin-based pro-militia Constitution Society, the Texas Constitutional Militia ‘s Committee of Safety is “no longer operative.”)

Lightner and Cupit are both active in GOP causes, and Wheaton is a regular contributor to the Libertarian Party. But all three, by virtue of their political activities, are iconoclasts outside the political mainstream, a fact that seems to drive their zeal–and open their wallets–for fundamental cultural change. The Constitution Party has been calling for such change since its founding in 1992, when it picked up what was left of the George Wallace movement–the American Independent Party and its various offshoots–to form what was originally known as the U.S. Taxpayers Party. And Peroutka, with his deep pockets and apparently growing doctrinal zeal, fits in quite well.

Now that he’s the party’s presumed presidential hope, Peroutka has started to answer candidate questionnaires, such as the one at, that give an idea of his stands on the issues, such as:

· Eliminate all taxes except tariffs on imports, which should be slightly increased.

· Eliminate all federal government funding for everything except defense, whose budget should be maintained at current levels–except for one item, a national missile defense, whose funding should be greatly increased.

· Except under special circumstances, expel all illegal aliens and place a moratorium on immigration.

· End all government aid to foreign interests, be it other countries or international organizations.

Getting in a position to make such fundamental changes to the federal government requires money. The Constitution Party National Committee’s cash on hand, as most recently reported on Jan. 31, is a little more than $8,200–barely enough to throw a decent bull roast–while Peroutka 2004, the presidential campaign committee, has nearly $22,000 on hand. The fact that either outfit has any cash at all, though, is thanks mostly to a small group of big donors, including Peroutka himself, who has chipped in nearly $57,000 to the national committee since 2000, and has lent $40,000 to his own presidential campaign committee. Only two other individuals have given more than $50,000 to the party’s federal accounts: the chairman of the Constitution Party National Committee, Jim Clymer, and a retiree from Dallas, Julie Lauer-Leonardi, who’s the party’s most prodigious benefactor, having given more than $80,000.

Lauer-Leonardi and Lightner are among dozens of conservative activists who sit on the leadership council of the Conservative Caucus, a 30-year-old Vienna, Va.-based political organization whose founder and chairman is Howard Phillips, a former Nixon administration official who has been the Constitution Party’s presidential candidate in the last three elections, and who helped found it in 1992 as the U.S. Taxpayers Party. (The party changed to its current name when it was trying in 1999 to woo Patrick Buchanan to be its presidential candidate.) Phillips is backing Peroutka and gave a rousing pro-Peroutka speech at the candidate’s announcement ceremony at Michael’s Eighth Avenue.

Lauer-Leonardi may be the biggest individual donor to the Constitution Party, but Peroutka, if you add to his contributions those made by his brother and wife, comes out on top: All together, they’ve given more than $95,000 to the party. As Richard Winger, editor of Ballot Access News and a close observer of U.S. third-party politics, says, “Peroutka really wants to be the party’s candidate for president.”


Only 307 Marylanders were registered as Constitution Party voters in March 2003, the last time the state board of elections did a head count before the party lost its status as a recognized party here because it didn’t garner enough votes in the 2002 state elections. Howard Phillips garnered sparse support from Maryland voters in his three presidential bids: 919 in 2000, 3,402 in 1996, and 22 in 1992. Nonetheless, Maryland has a special place in the Constitution Party’s heart. After all, the Free State backed the Constitution Party’s ancestor, George Wallace, in the 1964 presidential primary, and handed him nearly 180,000 votes in the 1968 general election.

A number of key Constitution Party players are based in or around Maryland. Clymer, the party’s chairman, is a lawyer in nearby Lancaster County, Pa. Phillips’ Conservative Caucus is based in the Virginia suburbs of Washington. Radio commentator and Constitution Party donor Albion Knight only had a short commute from his Gaithersburg home to give his homily at the Peroutka announcement. And Peroutka 2004’s $800-a-week communications director, John Lofton, a fixture of hard-right journalism since the rise of Ronald Reagan, lives in Laurel. The Save-a-Patriot Foundation, an anti-government, anti-tax organization based in Hagerstown, is scheduled to have Peroutka address one of its weekly Saturday-night gatherings in April. Two Maryland pastors–Cornerstone’s David Whitney and Michael Chastain of Christ Presbyterian Church in Elkton, who gave the prayer at Peroutka’s announcement–have emerged as important religious voices for the Constitution Party’s doctrines.

And, of course, Peroutka is a native Marylander, born in Baltimore in 1953. He and his brother Stephen Peroutka gave their first big donations to the Constitution Party National Committee–a combined sum of $30,000–between June and August of 2000. The Peroutka brothers’ Institute on the Constitution has caught on, and its Web site is a commonly encountered link on far-right political and religious Web sites. Michael and Stephen Peroutka both take their messages to the airwaves on local Christian radio stations.

More than 300 people came to Peroutka’s Feb. 21 event in Glen Burnie–a much better turnout than the 50 or so people who attended Ralph Nader’s August 2000 announcement in Annapolis that he would be the Green Party’s presidential candidate that year. Onstage at Michael’s Eighth Avenue, Michael Peroutka mentioned another manifestation of the party’s local influence when he thanked “members of the General Assembly here present” for coming to the event. Freshman state Del. Donald H. Dwyer Jr. (R-31) was there, but City Paper was unable to spot any other elected officials celebrating Peroutka’s announcement. Spear Lancaster said later that state Republicans whose campaigns Peroutka has supported financially “don’t want to be seen at another party’s event.” In his e-mail, Peroutka said that he had “sent notes to a few of my friends in the General Assembly and wanted to make sure I welcomed any who might have come. So I used the plural. I cannot remember seeing other Delegates except for my good friend Don Dwyer.”

Dwyer has teamed up with Peroutka, who put $4,000 in the delegate’s campaign kitty last May, in other ways recently. As reported by Dwyer in a Feb. 16 letter posted on the Institute on the Constitution’s Web site, the two joined other conservative luminaries–Howard Phillips, Alan Keyes, and Phyllis Schlafley among them–on a two-day visit in February to impeached Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Judge Roy Moore, who lost his job last fall after refusing to remove a sculpture of the Ten Commandments from his courthouse. And Dwyer told The Sun in a Feb. 3 article that he decided to run for delegate in 2002, his first bid for public office, after attending an Institute on the Constitution seminar. Ever since he arrived in Annapolis in 2003, he’s been rustling feathers–even yanking them on occasion by, for instance, suing the leader of the Anne Arundel legislative delegation over rule changes and questioning the patriotism of fellow lawmakers.


Peroutka’s budding influence in Annapolis and among some Christian Right Marylanders, along with his fund-raising ties to national far-right leaders, suggests he’s got some traction as a political player. Still, it almost goes without saying that he can forget about the White House.

“I don’t remember them, offhand,” University of Maryland political science professor Paul Herrnson jokes when asked what role the Constitution Party could play this election season. “Hold on, let me look them up in one of my books.”

His point, he says with a touch of hyperbole, is that “no one’s ever heard of them or cares about them, and that’s the problem with third-party politics in general.”

Others, such as Bob Moser, senior writer for civil-rights organization the Southern Poverty Law Center, who covered a Constitution Party gathering last April in Clackamas, Ore., think the party has legs, even if they’re spindly. “They’ve been reasonably successful–they’re still around,” Moser argues, distinguishing them from Ross Perot’s Reform Party, which has disintegrated since it nominated Buchanan for president in 2000. “A lot of the Perot people and Buchanan people have landed in the Constitution Party.”

But Moser says he isn’t impressed with Peroutka. The party, he explains, has in the past tried to draw big-name candidates–Marylander Alan Keyes, for instance, who ran for the GOP presidential nomination in 2000, or Buchanan–but has always ended up with Howard Phillips at the top of the ticket. And Peroutka, despite his wealth and organizational capabilities, is not a big name either.

“If they nominate somebody like Peroutka, they’re not going to get any votes,” Moser says. “But if they nominate Judge Moore,” whose name has been bandied about for the nomination, and who Peroutka has said he would step aside for, “they’d get some votes. Moore could draw as many votes this time as Nader.”

As it is, Moser says, the party is so far “the only catch basin for disaffected conservatives” in the 2004 presidential elections. How many of those will bother to vote for the Constitution Party candidate is hard to ascertain, but he contends there is a “large element of really conservative Christians who might support the Constitution Party, but who cling to not getting involved in politics, as well as the militia and anti-government people who are not going to participate in the system in any way.”

“I can’t really confirm or deny the extent to which some people may ‘drop out’ due to disillusionment” with the system, Peroutka responds in his e-mail. But he believes that public interest in the Constitution Party’s ideas “is increasing as folks recognize that we have abandoned the worldview of our founders, disregarded the plain meaning of the Constitution, and drastically centralized power in Washington to the detriment of the common good.”

The Constitution Party, “like all organizations that stand for something, will not attract those who stand against that same something,” he continues. While Christian at its core, and thus not likely to attract non-Christian voters, “the Constitution Party welcomes those who support its platform and its mission to restore Constitutional government.”

What’s more, the party’s religious base is not at all unique in politics, Peroutka contends. “The ideology of all parties and organizations and individuals is inherently tied to religion,” he states, because “we act out what we believe.”

If that’s the case–that “we act out what we believe”–then Peroutka’s actions toward Dawn and Holly Hubbard suggest his beliefs may be out of whack with the Constitution Party’s stated platform. How that affects the party faithful’s support for his candidacy remains to be seen.

Crunch Time: Cicadas Do Not Taste Like Chicken

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, May 26, 2004

At first, back in the early spring when I proposed it, I thought it’d be a good idea: cooking cicadas at a campfire, photographing the fun, and printing the results in the paper. Sort of an experiential guide to cicada eating. But as the appointed day approached for the shoot–May 15, two days before copy deadline for this issue–I was discouraged by the media glut of cicada-eating stories. The only saving grace for my piece, as far as I was concerned, was that no one was yet eating any from this batch of cicadas, which arrive here only every 17 years.

The week of the big event, to my growing consternation, I was told that a young Roland Park fellow had been cooking and eating them for two weeks already. He’d gotten the jump on me, presumably by digging up the subterranean nymphs before they’d emerged to shed their shells. For I had found from my own surveillance that, while some early birds had already crawled out–including about a dozen in mid-April that left their shells in my backyard, within earshot of Camden Yards–the infestation had not yet started in earnest.

Cicada eating on the scale I wanted was going to have to wait for the series of nights when successive legions of the little buggers rose from the soil all across the region, like oversized ants from a giant, kicked-up anthill, and affixed themselves to any available surface in order to shed their underground attire. And the freshest cicada eating was going to have to happen in the middle of the night, when they break free of their shells and glisten new and white in the moonlight.

The experts call these “tenerals,” and their moist, tender abdomens and undeveloped wings make for the best eating. Within hours, as the sun starts to rise, they’ll morph into their most familiar form–hardened adults, with red eyes and plump black bodies, who periodically burst from the foliage into slow, unsteady flight. You can still eat them then, but they’re crunchier, and you’d best pluck the wings off before snacking. It’s kind of like the difference between soft- and hard-shelled crabs; tenerals, like soft-shells among crab enthusiasts, are the bomb.

So it all came down to timing and location: Would the legions arrive by May 15 at Patapsco Valley State Park’s Hollofield Area, just east of Ellicott City, where I’d made camping reservations? If so, we’d have a story. If not, I’d be having my own private party after deadline. The cicadas complied–at the last possible moment.

While waiting, I researched and planned various feasts. I learned that you can “blanch” the tenerals for a minute or two in boiling water, then refrigerate and save them for later use in recipes. Alternately, you can dry-roast cicadas on cookie sheets in the oven at 275 degrees until they’re brittle, and use them like nuts or pound them into flour. Whole bugs, chopped bugs, or cicada-based dough can replace other ingredients to make a range of dishes from any cookbook.

Cooking outdoors with adult cicadas is another kettle of fish. Females are preferable for their protein-filled abdomens, while males offer little substance. When hunting them, though, I found it nearly impossible to tell the difference–until cooking, when the males’ bodies shrivel up. Marinating live bugs in Worcestershire sauce also helps weed out guys (the vinegar in the sauce slow-cooks them, so they start to collapse) while tenderizing the ladies.

Given the logistical challenges of campfire cooking, I made simplicity the rule. In the end, it came down to two approaches: deep-frying and spice-boiling. For the first, I got some Old Bay, cornmeal, flour, eggs, and corn oil. For the second, I got some Old Bay, salt, beer, water, potatoes, onions, corn on the cob, green beans, and smoked sausage. Round out the supplies with Worcestershire sauce, sealable plastic containers, an iron skillet, a five-gallon steamer, a sharp knife, a cutting board, some large bowls, and some dishes and silverware, and you’re outfitted for a cicada cookout.

A few friends and I ran around the park on Saturday, May 15, collecting adult cicadas, but we only found a few dozen. I de-winged the marinated catch, males included (given the slim pickings), and started the deep-fry production line by the fire: a bowl of beaten eggs, a bowl of flour and cornmeal mixed with Old Bay, and a hot skillet of oil.

I deep-fried a couple dozen individually, then added the remaining dozen or so to the leftover beaten eggs, threw in some of the Old Bay-flour mix, and fashioned a sort-of cicada pancake, which bubbled rigorously in the oil. A hot-sauce aficionado arrived just in time with a wide selection (and tortillas), saving the day since I’d neglected to get any in the morning rush.

They say you can deep fry anything and it’ll taste good with hot sauce. It’s true with cicadas. Even the pancake, drenched in hot sauce and held between two tortillas, was a hit. A 1-year-old girl smiled as she slowly chewed on a fried cicada. “We couldn’t get her to eat anything before coming out here,” her mother exclaimed. It’s also said cicadas taste somewhat like a cross between asparagus and walnuts. I say it’s hard to tell if you cook them right.

The next round–the spice boil–had to wait until the wee hours of May 16, for I was determined to bag me some tenerals. But long before then, the small day-time crowd thinned to one, as the photographer said he’d return around midnight. I was left to nap in my tent during a rainstorm. Shortly before midnight, the storm slowed enough for me to wake and jump-start the fire.

I stepped out into the damp, drippy woods with my flashlight, walking no more than 20 yards before seeing them–tenerals, all over the place. I immediately got busy, filling the steamer with water, beer, and Old Bay and setting it on the campfire. I grabbed some Tupperware, poured a few ounces of Worcestershire in, and had just started gathering the juicy white bugs when the photographer showed up, as promised.

Within a half-hour, between the two of us we’d gathered maybe 150 cicadas. The pot was boiling, and I went through the succession of ingredients: first the garlic, then the potatoes (halved), then onions (wedged), then corn (halved), then smoked sausage (sliced into short pieces), then green beans (snapped), and finally, the cicadas, drained of marinade. I boiled the mixture for a minute or two more, then drained everything into a large bowl.

It was 2:30 in the morning and time to eat spice-boiled teneral cicadas–and, like the deep-fried adults, they were a hit. The photographer shoveled rapid-fire forkfuls of bugs into his mouth, relishing them with contented chewing, and washing them down with cold canned beer. He commented on my timidity as I concentrated mostly on the sausage and potatoes. The bugs, I knew, were delicious. But when I swallowed a bite of that pancake earlier, a leg snagged on my esophagus and raked its way down as I chugged some beer. That memory hung on, just like the cicada leg had. Tenerals don’t do that, I knew. Still, I was timid.

The next morning, the leftovers made for a delicious omelette. It came off the fire, ready to eat, just as a few more friends arrived. We ate–again it was good–and then we hiked down to the river, took a dip, broke camp, and went home. I immediately called for pizza delivery. And I thought, Hey, I bet cicadas would be good on pizza. Once every 17 years, you can give it a try.

Going Gay With Age: A Short History of Gay Rights in Baltimore

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, June 9, 2004

Gay rights got off to a rocky start in Maryland. When Lord Baltimore was granted his charter for the colony of Maryland in 1632, he adopted English common law, which outlawed sodomy. This legal tradition viewed the biblical crime as nonprocreative sexual acts, such as anal and oral sex, be it hetero- or homosexual (or involving animals). Common-law penalties included live burial or burning. Their threat helped to quash any notion that colonial gays and lesbians had rights to assert; they were criminals, plain and simple, and were to be treated as such when caught–though apparently not many were, as the historical record is sparse on colonial sodomy prosecutions in Maryland.

After gaining statehood, according to sodomy-law historian George Painter’s Web site (, Maryland in 1793 passed a sodomy statute that set a sentence of up to seven years of hard labor in irons on bread-and-water rations, with lashings for misconduct. Slaves convicted of sodomy would get the death penalty or, if lucky, 14 years of the same rough handling. In 1809 the penalty was changed to one to 10 years’ confinement, with slaves getting equal treatment. Then, in the first published sodomy case in the nation, the Maryland Court of Appeals in 1810 upheld an indictment for “that most horrid and detestable crime (among christians not to be named), called Sodomy.” The law, with its religious undertones, stood unchanged for more than a century but resulted in few recorded cases.

Taking its cue again from England, where Victorian moralists had spurred public obsession with sex, Maryland in 1915 issued a Vice Commission Report about some of its residents’ sexual adventures. Seven of the report’s thousand-plus pages addressed homosexuality. The following year, a new sodomy law was passed, outlawing oral sex and other unspecified “unnatural or perverted sexual practices” with a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a $1,000 fine. Three published cases in the 1940s-’60s involved heterosexuals, establishing that the law was not designed to target gay behavior alone.

Thus, gay sex, and straight sex venturing somewhere into the vast realm beyond the missionary position, were criminal acts in Maryland from the very beginning. In a sense, they still are; the 1916 statute, after the last effort to repeal it failed in 1988, was found unconstitutional in two late-’90s decisions, but sodomy in theory is still a common-law crime in Maryland. In practice, presumably judges would frown on any attempts to prosecute it.

The struggle for gay rights in Maryland since the 1960s, though, has been about much more than the right to practice same-sex intimacy. It’s been about protection from discrimination, achieving recognition for same-sex partners who want to share employment benefits or visitation rights at hospitals, and allowing gay or lesbian couples to marry, or adopt, or split up but still retain custody rights over children. It has also involved blocking proposed anti-gay measures.

Not everyone sees the point in grappling with the system. Betsy Brown of western Oregon became like a young Malcolm X in a world of Martin Luther King Jr. lesbians with her mid-1990s “lesbian separatism” manifestos, inspired in part by the black-separatist economic model of self-reliance. “Participationists work for legal recognition of same-sex marriages and other gay-rights legislation,” Brown wrote in Off Our Backsin 1995, but “as a separatist, I recognize marriage as an institution created by men in order to control wimmin, children, and female sexuality.” Marriage and every other invention of civil society are tools of political repression, she argued, so why fight for them? Instead, she urged lesbians to direct their collective energy into building and strengthening “wimmin-only zones.”

The history of the gay-rights movement, however, is populated not by the few who opted out of the system, but by the many who grappled with it. Here’s a short, abridged version of their story here in Maryland, compiled from interviews, contemporary news accounts, and legal sources.

The 1970s

The 1969 New York City police raid on Greenwich Village’s Stonewall Inn is credited with inspiring the national gay-rights movement, but the higher profile also brought more hostility. “Despite the excellent work being done by gay activists around the world,” writer Alan Payne mused in a 1980 City Paper essay titled “Gay Gloom,” “I look around me at the general community and realize that 15 years ago gays were pitied and now . . . we are hated.” While the young movement managed to elbow its way into the national civil-rights discussion and gain broader acceptance in the 1970s, its opposition fought back hard.

Evidence of the new tolerance–and the strident opposition–mounted throughout the decade. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association, which had classified homosexuality as a mental illness, recommended the stigma be lifted; in 1975, the American Medical Association urged that sodomy laws be repealed. Many churches were taken aback by the outburst of open-mindedness; in 1976, the Vatican was moved to remind the Catholic world that homosexuality is a “serious depravity” that “can in no way be approved of.”

Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Miami, Los Angeles, and Detroit passed laws extending civil-rights protections to gays. But the sunset of Jimmy Carter’s term as president loomed without passage of a federal gay civil-rights bill–an unfulfilled promise he’d made in his 1976 campaign. In a moment that demonstrated the intensity of emotions the gay-rights cause could inspire, San Francisco’s mayor, George Moscone, and its openly gay city supervisor, Harvey Milk, were gunned down in 1978 by Dan White, Milk’s anti-gay predecessor. Still, a fall 1979 gay-rights march in Washington drew an estimated 50,000 to 150,000 people.

In Maryland, though, gay rights lost ground in the 1970s, and leading politicians weren’t shy about openly dismissing the gay agenda. In 1973, reacting to attempts by gay and lesbian couples to marry in Maryland, the Free State became the first in the nation to legally define marriage as only between a man and a woman–what has since come to be known as the Defense of Marriage Act. Democrat Blair Lee, the acting governor from 1977 to ’79, famously announced that he had “more important things to do” than worry about gay rights, while one of the state’s Republican members of Congress, Marjorie Holt, quipped, “That’s stupid,” to the suggestion that feminists should support gay rights. Meanwhile, religious arguments against repealing the state’s sodomy law won out regularly in Annapolis.

In the city, the gay movement since the 1960s had revolved around the Baltimore Gay Alliance, the progenitor of today’s Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland (GLCCB). And the alliance’s main political thespian was Harvey Schwartz, a woolly, streetwise activist who was as quick with a witty comeback as he was with raising a crowd for a rally.

“Harvey was a 24-hour-a-day queer,” recalls Pat Moran, a local TV and movie casting director with longstanding ties to the gay community. “It was always, ‘Here comes Harvey with another sign.’ And the Sunpapers, every time there was a gay issue to cover, they always called only Harvey. You’d have thought they could have found three other gays to talk to somewhere in town.”

Part of the problem, Moran speculates, was that so many gay people were in the closet. “Schoolteachers had it the worst, but it was everybody,” she recalls. “They’d lose their jobs if they showed up at a party with their actual partners, so they’d have a woman come with them–the beard syndrome was rife. People couldn’t be themselves.”

But some local gays were willing to be vocal and out-front. “We were young, crazy activists,” remembers Louis Hughes, now retired after decades of involvement in the local gay movement, though he still volunteers here and there. “We would meet in peoples’ apartments, their basements, and form various splinter groups. That’s where the Chase-Brexton clinic came from, and what’s now called Gay Life newspaper. And we had the first Gay Pride Festival on 31st Street in Waverly, before it moved to Wyman Park.” (It’s now held in Druid Hill Park.)

“Other than Harvey, there were myself and Paulette Young, an African-American lesbian who was the Baltimore Gay Alliance’s first president, and many others,” Hughes says. “We would go down to Annapolis, starting in the 1970s, to get gay-rights legislation passed in Annapolis, but it always went nowhere.”

The gay and lesbian community’s hopes for a gay civil-rights law in Baltimore were backed by members the city’s Community Relations Commission, whose chair, Antonya Keane, began feeling out then-mayor William Donald Schaefer for possible support. She found none; Schaefer “didn’t commit himself either way,” Keane told CP in 1978. But support was gelling among four sympathetic members of the City Council–Mary Pat Clarke, Wally Orlinsky, Victorine Adams, and Thomas Waxter. After returning from the 1979 march on Washington, Schwartz and the Baltimore Gay Alliance kept the momentum going with a rally at the Inner Harbor.

Area college campuses stirred with gay controversy, too. The Towson State University Student Government Association in 1978 denied a gay student group’s $84 budget because of “moral qualms” over the criminality of its members’ presumed sexual behavior. At the University of Maryland, in College Park, on the other hand, the SGA backed gay-friendly amendments to the university code. And at Johns Hopkins University, the Gay Caucus president boldly told CP that “if a campus doesn’t have a faggot group, it’s nowhere.”

The 1980s

The era of Ronald Reagan, who in 1984 proclaimed that he would “resist the efforts of some to obtain government endorsement of homosexuality,” offered an unfriendly political climate for gays and lesbians, and it coincided with the dawn of HIV/AIDS. The disease was quickly recognized as spreading fastest among gay males, a fact that contributed to a what many saw as a rise in homophobia.

“There are a large number of people who are afraid of homosexuals,” Baltimore psychotherapist Ernestine Maben told City Paper in 1983. “Have always been. But more so [recently] because of AIDS.” Five years later, The New York Times reported about a “hostile world” for gays, citing a study by Baltimore psychiatrist Kenneth Morgen, who found that 16 percent of gays in Baltimore had been harassed or assaulted at least once by someone who mentioned AIDS. “This is a crime that is coming out of the closet,” Morgen told the Times.

AIDS, meanwhile, took its toll on the burgeoning gay-rights movement. “It was quite a blow,” Hughes says. “We lost people early on from AIDS, so they could no longer be there to be activists. We had to raise a new generation.” In particular, he remembers Eddie King, who was involved in the Health Education Resource Center and helped build bridges between local AIDS sufferers and groups such as the Urban League before he died in the mid-’80s.

The ’80s also brought unavoidable recognition that gays and lesbians are ubiquitous–a message that was delivered with keen irony in 1980 when Congressman Bob Bauman, a conservative Eastern Shore Republican and a vocal foe of gays, was charged with soliciting a 16-year-old male for sex. Harvey Schwartz gleefully joked to CP at the time that the Bauman case did “more for [gay] liberation” than activism.

The inadvertent outing was followed in 1983 by another: Massachusetts Rep. Gerry Studds (D), facing a congressional reprimand for a sexual relationship a decade earlier with a teenage male, admitted he was homosexual. Not since the 1972 death of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who left much of his estate to his lifelong male companion, had so many in the country wink-winked so heartily. Actor Rock Hudson’s death from AIDS further ushered in a growing realization in mainstream America that gays and lesbians were more a part of society’s fabric than a threat to it.

By 1983, Bauman had transformed himself into a gay advocate, telling The Washington Post that gay civil rights “is a concept whose time has come. I don’t think it is politically damaging to the right or the left to support that.” Still, while gay-friendly laws came to pass in Maryland and around the country, so did setbacks.

Baltimore City’s gay and lesbian civil-rights bill was introduced first in 1980, then in 1984, and finally in 1988 before it passed. “It helped when Kurt Schmoke became mayor and Mary Pat [Clarke] became City Council president” in 1988, says Tony Ambridge. The local real-estate developer is a former City Council member who was the measure’s chief sponsor in ’84 and ’88.

When he first put the bill before the City Council in 1984, Ambridge recalls, “Schaefer was not happy with it, and neither were many of my colleagues on the council. Waxter and Kweisi Mfume, I remember, were with me. Other than that, though, people weren’t happy.

“Remember, I’d only been in there maybe three months, and then this?” Ambridge continues. “Schaefer just didn’t think it was germane that they were a special class of people. And I said, ‘But that’s the whole point. They’re not a special class of people. They’re another group of people who need the same protections from discrimination as everyone else.’

“I bet we had 200 people at the hearings each time. People don’t remember now how vociferous the opposition could be–it was the only time in my life that I saw Muslims, Orthodox Jews, and born-again Christians at the same table on the same issue.”

John Hannay, now a public-health consultant in Columbia, lobbied hard in support of the city’s 1988 gay-rights bill. He has similar memories. “The key was that a large number of people involved in nongay and nonlesbian groups came to support it, like community groups and other human-rights groups,” Hannay says. “An important one was the NAACP, which had shown some hesitancy until then because they didn’t want to offend one of their strong bases of support–a number of African-American clergy who were conservative on this issue.” And, he adds, winning the neutrality of the local Roman Catholic archdiocese, whose Archbishop William Borders had previously lobbied against the bill, didn’t hurt either.

A good portion of the opposition was cultural rather than religious. In the middle of the 1980 City Council battle over gay rights, for instance, then-councilman Joseph P. Murphy told CP the bill was “a joke,” and that machinists and factory workers he knows told him they would deliberately mistrain gay co-workers so they would be injured in industrial accidents.

Ambridge recalls that, during the 1988 wrangling over the bill, Councilman Mimi DiPietro–the voice of Southeast Baltimore’s working-class neighborhoods–was told by a CP reporter that one in 10 people are gay. “He looked around and started counting out the people around him,” Ambridge says. “‘One, two, three . . . ,’ on up to 10. And then asks them, ‘OK, so which one of you’s guys is gay?” DiPietro echoed a common blue-collar belief about the bill: “If you open the door to gays in Baltimore,” he told The Sun, “they’ll come from everywhere.”

Moran recalls DiPietro’s ilk with scorn. “Those people were buffoons,” she says. “They didn’t recognize that gay people are everywhere–everywhere–and they always have been.”

Early on in the fight for the city’s gay-rights ordinance, in 1983, Harvey Schwartz was booted from his post as head of the Gay Community Center of Baltimore (the early-’80s iteration of the Baltimore Gay Alliance). He explained to CP at the time that it resulted from a split between “streetwise” activists such as himself and “bureaucratic” gays, many of them professionals, who represented an emerging new leadership. By the time the battle over the 1988 bill began, this new generation–which included, among others, Hannay, AIDS activist Gary Lambert, and Curt Decker, who helped lead the city’s Gay and Lesbian Democratic Club–were politely building political bridges across the city and state. To present a united front in pressing for change, the gay and lesbian community also coalesced around a civil-rights group called the Free State Justice Campaign (now named Maryland Equality).

“There were a lot of new folks getting involved, including myself,” Hannay says. “Green faces, relatively inexperienced. We learned a lot.” (A lot of the strategy sessions back then, Hannay recalls, were held in the home offices of architect Stephen Glassman, which were located in what is now City Paper‘s offices at 812 Park Ave.) With a city gay-rights bill gained, a fuller agenda was in the offing–including not only more legislative efforts, but also through the courts and the mayor’s office.

The 1990s

The decade opened with two important 1990 court decisions. Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Kathleen O’Ferrall Friedman, ruling in a custody case involving a lesbian couple’s daughter, found that the woman who hadn’t given birth to the daughter still retained limited custody rights. The decision was innovative, creating new boundaries for the legal concept of parenthood–an important issue for the many gays and lesbians who raise families.

Also in 1990, the Maryland Court of Appeals decided Schochet v. State, ruling that the state’s sodomy and unnatural- and perverted-sex laws could not be applied to consenting heterosexuals. The ruling flew in the face of the appeals court’s own precedents and appeared to deprive gays of equal protection under the law. Nonetheless, until 1998 and 1999, when new court rulings legalized consensual sodomy for everyone, Schochet was used to argue that gay and lesbian parents shouldn’t have child custody because acting on their sexual preferences was a crime, explains Mark Scurti, president of the Gay and Lesbian Bar Association of Maryland.

The effect of these court decisions, and other around the country, was to recognize same-sex couples under family law–a legal shift that fed into another national debate raging throughout the 1990s, and up to the present: same-sex marriage.

A case in Hawaii shuttled around its state courts throughout the decade, turning on the question of whether or not the state’s constitution allowed it to ban gay marriage. The case touched off discussions in legislatures around the country about whether or not to recognize gay marriages allowed in other states. Maryland politicians battled it out, with bills to allow gay marriage in this state going as far as bills not to recognize other states’ gay marriages–nowhere.

Meanwhile, President Bill Clinton–who over the course of his two terms was wishy-washy on gay issues–signed a federal Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, saying he “has long opposed same-sex marriage.” Maryland’s Democratic U.S. senators, Barbara Mikulski and Paul Sarbanes, both voted for the measure, disappointing their gay supporters.

The repeatedly defeated statewide gay civil-rights bill also didn’t make it out of the state legislature during the 1990s, despite its endorsement by Gov. Parris Glendening, a Democrat. He took matters into his own hands upon gaining office in 1995 by ordering the state government to enforce an explicit policy of nondiscrimination against gay and lesbian employees. In 1991 and 1994, meanwhile, the Baltimore City Council rejected domestic partnership proposals that would have established a registry for same-sex or heterosexual nonmarried couples; by signing up and gaining recognition as domestic partners, it was hoped such couples could appeal to their employers to extend benefits to their partners. Mayor Schmoke and several council members–Ambridge, Clarke, and Wilbur “Bill” Cunningham, among them–backed the bill, and in 1993 Schmoke had extended benefits to same-sex partners of city employees. But local clergy came on strong, and got it defeated.

“It was the same reaction from them as to the gay-rights bill,” Ambridge says. “All this biblical rhetoric and irrational fears about pedophiles. I always pointed out that the Bible also says that some people should be stoned to death, and that the studies show that most pedophiles are men going after little girls, not little boys.”

“Schmoke had a task force to study the domestic-partnership registry idea,” Hughes recalls. “And he found that it cost almost nothing. So when the legislature failed to act, he saw it as a no-cost no-brainer to do as an executive order. A lot of positive things came out of the Schmoke administration–especially in terms of how to apply the 1988 law extending protections to gays and lesbians. He set up the complaint and appeals procedures, and made sure it was all well-studied and done properly. It was good to know that city government was on our side.”

The private sector, meanwhile, started to budge on gay issues. In 1999, the same year that Montgomery County followed Baltimore City’s and Takoma Park’s leads in instituting benefits for same-sex partners of its government employees, the Johns Hopkins family of educational, medical, and research institutions–one of Maryland’s largest employers–did the same. The groundwork for that move actually had been laid out 10 years earlier, when the Montgomery County Human Relations Commission brokered a deal with a local company to provide limited job benefits to same-sex partners. But Hopkins’ move was in a whole nother league, and was a harbinger of more progressive corporate decisions to come.

2000 and Onward

Baltimore mayor Martin O’Malley enjoyed energetic support from the gay and lesbian community in the 1999 mayoral race, but in December 2000 one of his key appointees got him into trouble. Housing Commissioner Paul Graziano was arrested for disorderly conduct after an outburst of verbal gay-bashing at a Fells Point bar. O’Malley kept Graziano at his post, over the protests of gay activists, after ordering him to enter alcohol treatment and sensitivity training. Promises of regular meetings between gay leaders and the mayor, along with discussions of appointing gays and lesbians to administration jobs, repaired the rift–as did O’Malley’s June 2001 announcement that a Gay and Lesbian Task Force would be appointed to address activists’ concerns. As an added bonus, the City Council passed and O’Malley signed a bill in December 2002 extending civil-rights protections to the city’s transgendered population.

On the statewide front, Glendening and gay and lesbian lobbyists finally negotiated a gay civil-rights bill into law in 2001.

“I was there the day when Glendening came in as a citizen to testify,” Hughes remembers. “And then the bill passed–it was a real shock. His testimony was very effective in getting people to understand gay rights affected everybody.” (Glendening’s late brother Bruce, an Air Force veteran, died of AIDS in 1988 after keeping his homosexuality hidden during his 19-year military career.)

The bill even garnered the “yes” vote of conservative Cecil County Democratic Sen. Walter Baker (since ousted at the polls), who a decade earlier had remarked that gays and lesbians are “sick” and “messed up sexually,” and suggested that property owners should be allowed to discriminate against them.

Plenty of opposition to gay rights still existed, though. In fact, the state bill’s passage spurred anti-gay forces to form a political campaign committee called Take Back Maryland, which organized grass-roots support for putting the new law up for a referendum on the 2002 ballot. Their efforts to get the referendum on the ballot fell short, and the law stands.

At the beginning of the 2002 legislative session, longtime Democratic state Del. Maggie McIntosh, of Baltimore City, came out–the first Maryland legislator to do so. Since then, Montgomery County voters elected in 2002 an openly gay delegate, Richard Madaleno, and another delegate, Ann Kaiser, came out as a lesbian while giving testimony in support of a statewide domestic-partner registry during the 2004 session in Annapolis.

Kaiser says her decision to announce her same-sex preference in such a public forum helps push society’s evolution toward more acceptance of gays and lesbians. “The face of gay America is very much the same as the rest of America,” she says, “and people are learning that.”

The past General Assembly session hosted more than Kaiser’s surprise. It was a replay of the gay-issue gridlock of the 1990s, with religiously motivated anti-gay-rights measures competing for attention and support with pro-gay-rights bills. Thus, while gay activists sought approval of a bill to allow same-sex couples to make medical decisions for one another, and another to add gays and lesbians to the list of minorities protected under the state’s hate-crime laws, they had to work to kill two separate bills that would have made it illegal for Maryland to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.

“There’s not enough support either to ban or approve same-sex marriage right now,” Kaiser observes. But she believes that will change with time. “I’m convinced to my core that we will move in the direction of gay marriage and civil unions. Unfortunately, it might be in another generation that that happens, because what seems shocking in one generation seems acceptable in the next. But we’ve already come a long way.”

“As far as I’m concerned, people should be flipping out that they aren’t allowed to be married,” an exasperated Pat Moran exclaims. “I mean, if I was tormented by health-care workers and insurance people right on down, as gays so often are, and if I lived with someone for 20 years who died and I had no rights to anything, I’d be ready to tear some buildings down. One out of two straight marriages end in divorce, so where do they get off telling anyone what to do? I say it’s time not to be polite about going after the rights they’re due.”

Mob Rules: Ex-Gangster Charlie Wilhelm is Making a Different Kind of Book These Days, and it’s Opening Up a Lot of the City’s Secrets

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Oct. 6, 2004

Mobtown is not, by reputation, a mob town. Baltimore’s nickname derives from its citizens’ proclivity to riot, not from its role as a home to organized crime—a role that until very recently has been little recognized, much less resisted. Sure, there was Julius “The Lord” Salsbury, who hobnobbed with city pols and lawmen as he ruled Baltimore’s rackets in the 1950s and ’60s, until he skipped bail and fled the country in 1970, never to be heard from again. (Barry Levinson’s Liberty Heights in 1999 retold the Salsbury story). And sure, there’s a 16-month-old outfit in the Baltimore City Police Department called the Organized Crime Division, but it claims to target low-level drug dealers, not racketeers involved in loansharking, narcotics-running, gambling, arson, and murder. Poker-machine guys and titty-bar owners with ties to police and politicians, rogues who maybe bring some coke in from Ocean City or Miami or New York every now and then—they’re not The Sopranos. They’re more like Jimmy Breslin’s The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight.

But with the release this week of Wised Up (Pinnacle Press), by gangster-turned-informant Charlie Wilhelm and ex-Sun reporter Joan Jacobson, Mobtown’s long-held denial of its own entrenched organized-crime problem may start to dissolve. Recognition and frank discussion of a problem, as everyone knows, are the first steps on the road to recovery. And Wised Up—Wilhelm’s story, fully corroborated and retold by Jacobson, almost entirely in Wilhelm’s voice, as if he were regaling the reader over rounds of beer at Showalter’s Saloon in Hampden—promises to let that process begin.

The recovery process for Wilhelm—a longtime loan shark, bookmaker, arsonist, drug dealer, and extortionist—started when he hit bottom in the summer of 1995. The police staged an early-morning raid on his house on Keswick Road in Hampden, and Wilhelm’s gut wrenched as he saw his youngest son, a 7-year-old, scared and crying while the house was searched. Wilhelm wasn’t arrested, though, and a few days later his partner in crime, Billy Isaacs, with whom Wilhelm had run for nearly 20 years, appeared at his front door, fresh out of prison after a federal stint for witness tampering. Wilhelm knew Isaacs had gotten away with a murder in 1978. He also knew Isaacs wanted him to kill two men who Isaacs believed were stealing from their operation. Wilhelm, who had never killed, didn’t want to do the job, and was quickly getting sick of the gangster life. Within a week, Wilhelm went to Washington to tell an FBI agent—a childhood acquaintance of his, Wilhelm’s brother’s best friend—that he wanted to turn informant. He brought no lawyer, sought no deal for the crimes he’d committed, and had no pending charges hanging over him. It was the only way Wilhelm saw to get out.

And it worked. Ultimately, Wilhelm’s dicey errands as an undercover informant led to the arrest of 23 people, including Isaacs, who went to prison for the 1978 murder. Wilhelm supported his family on government funds—$2,500 per month, for a total of $140,000—until he could land a legitimate job as a Baltimore-area carpenter, a career he still has. He never entered the federal witness-protection program, instead leaving town in 1996 to live quietly in Alabama, until homesickness drew him and his family back in 1998. Meanwhile, Wilhelm kept a journal to help beat back chronic anxiety, and eventually was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, from which he still suffers. But the journal became the basis for a four-part series by Jacobson in The Sun, published in November 2001, as well as for Wised Up.

“It’s the only thing I ever did right in my life,” Wilhelm said recently during a sit-down at City Paper’s offices, with Jacobson in tow. “Why should I be the one persecuted for doing something right? Even though all that stuff I did before was wrong—if they told me I had to do 30 years, I’m perfectly happy with that. But why should I have to run? You know what I mean? Why can’t the guys that I dealt with be on the run? Why can’t regular people, hard-working people say, ‘Hey, those guys don’t run. He’s right, he did the right thing, let them run off,’ and get them to run away?”

That, in a nutshell, is the central message from Wised Up: Baltimore has to recognize that organized-crime henchmen live and do their dirty work in its neighborhoods, and it needs to reject them, just like Wilhelm rejected his earlier life. “The general public has to make these guys the criminals—the bad cops, the bad politicians, the wise guys,” Wilhelm says excitedly. “Make them be the wrong guys. The public has to say, ‘That’s not right, what you’re doing.’ Like Billy [Isaacs]. Billy goes into Hampden, everybody looks up to him. He’s a murderer! Why don’t you have a problem with that? Why can’t people’s opinions change? That’s the problem. Billy will come out of jail, and everybody will think he’s a hero. That has to change.”

A crucial turning point in Wised Up comes in that pivotal 1995 encounter, when Isaacs ordered Wilhelm to murder the two men, and he balked. Wilhelm figured it would only be a matter of time before a contract would be out on him, too. But what’s most interesting, in terms of the larger lesson of Wised Up about the presence of organized-crime figures in city life, is the identity of one of the men Isaacs wanted killed: a fellow named in the book as Ronnie Jones, whom Wilhelm and Jacobson do not describe further.

City Paper, during the mid- to late 1990s, published numerous stories involving Ronald David Jones, an ex-city cop with a history of involvement in vending machines, bars, real estate, and strip clubs. The paper’s interest in Jones was due to his political ties to then-City Councilman, now Mayor Martin O’Malley. Those ties apparently ended not long after O’Malley was elected mayor in the fall of 1999, according to Jones and others interviewed during the intervening years. But during O’Malley’s formative years as a Baltimore politician, Jones was one of his earliest and most generous financial backers. Jones made donations through his wife, ex-wife, and businesses to O’Malley’s campaigns, and the sum reported in campaign-finance records approaches $10,000. (O’Malley isn’t the only political pony Jones has backed. State Sen. George Della, outgoing City Councilwoman Lois Garey, former City Council President Lawrence Bell, and former state Senators Tommy Bromwell and Vernon Boozer all have campaign ties to Jones, and the full list is likely longer.)

During the decade that Jones was betting on O’Malley and others, he was also involved with Joe’s Tavern, an infamous Dundalk Avenue bar that looms large in Wised Up as Wilhelm and Isaacs’ base of operations. Joe’s took its name from its earlier owner, the late state senator, Joseph Staszak, who died in a mysterious boating accident in 1979 on Old Road Bay near Sparrows Point, three months after pleading guilty to federal charges of mail fraud and filing false tax returns. In 1990, Isaacs and Wilhelm were taking over Joe’s, and Jones was at the table with them from the start—though, in a series of Oct. 1 telephone conversations with City Paper, Jones discounted his involvement with the bar, and the Isaacs-Wilhelm crew, and questioned the truth of the claims Wilhelm makes in Wised Up.

Jones says that “because I lent [Isaacs] money at one point, [Wilhelm] said I had something to do with [Joe’s], but I was never a partner, nothing like that. I lent him 7 or 8 thousand dollars for setting up Joe’s, and that was it.” As for whether there was a contract that Isaacs put on his life, Jones says, “It was bullshit. If Billy had killed all the people he said he wanted killed, you’d have to put [all the names] in a phone book.”

Also, he says, Wilhelm wanted out of the gangster life not because of his unwillingness to do the killings Isaacs ordered but because he had “no money. [Wilhelm and another Isaacs associate] put their own hits in—they were robbing the book and blowing [the money] all over town.” In other words, Jones contends that Wilhelm was stealing from his and Isaacs’ own bookmaking operation, and spending so much money that he was running out of juice, so he ran to the feds in order to make government cash as an informant. “The guy wrote a book,” Jones concludes. “To me, it’s fiction.”

“I robbed all the bookmakers—that’s the way it was,” Wilhelm explains in a follow-up interview, while at his carpentry job. “In July of 1995 [when Wilhelm offered himself as a federal informant], I still had $60,000. I did it for money? Who would put their whole family what I had to put them through for $2,500 a month? That little piece of shit.”

When told of Jones’ contention that Jones had virtually nothing to do with Joe’s Tavern, Wilhelm went ballistic: “He’s an absolute liar—I’ve got the paper on that!” And then he left his job site to retrieve a document, which he shortly delivered to City Paper. It was a handwritten promissory note (apparently in Jones’ hand) for $71,000, with a promise to spend $15,000 more on equipment, lent to Joe’s Tavern by Jones, who signed the document along with Isaacs associate Richard A. Payne (the other man Isaacs later ordered Wilhelm to murder) on behalf of Joe’s. Wilhelm signed the note as witness to the December 1990 transaction, which also secured a 50-50 split between Joe’s Tavern and Ron Jones for all the tavern’s vending-machine business for 10 years. Wilhelm says the document was drawn up and signed at the offices of Baltimore criminal-defense attorney Michael Marr.

“I don’t recall anything like that,” Jones responds, adding, “I never got a dime out of” Joe’s vending-machine revenues. Then he remarked about the promissory note, “Goddamn, I gotta get a hold of that—I could collect on it. If you find anybody else who owes me money, call me.” In a phone message left at City Paper later the same day, he said that his wife at the time, Lois Arreguin, was on the Maryland State Lottery license for Joe’s Tavern for one year in 1990.

The absolute truth of the matter is hard to ascertain, despite the documentation. It’s still possible that the money was never loaned, and that Jones never shared the vending-machine take at Joe’s. But Jones freely admits to a long-term relationship with O’Malley. “I’ve known Martin for 14 years, going back to when he ran against [former state Sen. John] Pica” in 1990. Jones recalls being introduced to O’Malley through John Hubble, a real-estate investor who later, in 2001, served for three months as real-estate officer for Baltimore City government. “Once [O’Malley] became mayor, he got a different life,” Jones says. “I don’t want to be in that circle. If you need the mayor, you’re in trouble.”

In response to questions about the mayor’s relationship with Jones, O’Malley spokesman Steve Kearney would only say that “the mayor’s office has nothing to say other than there have been over 10,000 donors to the mayor’s campaigns over the years.” With Wised Up hitting bookstores on Oct. 9 and also available online (www., though, one of the mayor’s longtime—though erstwhile—political benefactors is now fingered in print as having been in business with organized-crime figures. Journalists, voters, and other political observers are sure to notice, and it’s safe to predict that a discussion about organized-crime ties to Baltimore politics will enter the civic debate.

Despite Wised Up’s remarkable disclosures and descriptions of mob life in Baltimore, it remains at its core a story about a man who made a change. “I really wrote the book because I thought it was a great story about how [Wilhelm] changed his life,” Jacobson says. “And I understood that there needed to be chapters about loansharking and bookmaking, and it was fascinating, but I really see this as a book about a guy who really turned his life around. And that’s what I think is the most interesting part about this book. That’s what really kept moving me along. I’d never written a book before, and it’s a big, long process. And that’s what kept me going—it’s a great story. It’s a story of hope.”