By Van Smith, with additional reporting by Jeffrey Anderson
Published by City Paper, July 14, 2008
The Double T Diner in Catonsville is an odd place for the mayor of Baltimore to go for a breakfast meeting. Located about 10 miles west of City Hall on Baltimore National Pike, just outside the Beltway, the Double T is a large retro-styled restaurant serving diner food–the same schtick, albeit in a scaled-down space, can be had one block north of City Hall at the Hollywood Diner.
Yet at 7:30 a.m. on Monday, July 16, 2007, according to Mayor Sheila Dixon’s official desk calendar, she was at the Double T, having a “follow-up meeting” with five powerful men. Three months later, on Oct. 16, at 9:30 a.m., Dixon’s calendar says she was there again with the same five men, along with several other influential people. Those were the only two visits to the Double T recorded in Dixon’s calendar since she became mayor in January 2007.
The five whom Dixon’s calendar lists as present at both meetings are Ronald H. Lipscomb, Brian D. Morris, Owen M. Tonkins, Daniel P. Henson, and Talmadge Branch. Three of them–Lipscomb, Morris, and Tonkins–figure in state and federal probes that in recent years have been examining the city’s dealings with minority developers. Neither Dixon, nor the men at both meetings, nor the remaining people listed as attending the second meeting, would confirm their presence at either get-together, much less answer questions about what was discussed there.
Both Double T meetings coincided with important developments in Maryland State Prosecutor Robert Rohrbaugh’s ongoing, two-year investigation into Dixon’s affairs. Last July 14, the Saturday before the July 16 breakfast at the Double T, law enforcers interviewed furrier Richard Schwartz and learned that gift certificates were used by a Lipscomb associate to purchase furs for Dixon. And Dixon’s former campaign manager, Dale G. Clark, whose company formerly ran the City Council’s web site, was interviewed last Oct. 16, the same day as Dixon’s second Double T meeting. Clark has since pleaded guilty to failing to file tax returns. During the interview, Clark was asked about financing for a group trip to the Bahamas to celebrate Dixon’s 50th birthday.
The dates and details of the Schwartz and Clark interviews, along with information about many other dealings involving Lipscomb and Dixon, are contained in a search-warrant affidavit for last November’s law-enforcement raid on the East Baltimore offices of Lipscomb’s Doracon Contracting. The affidavit surfaced in a June 24 Sun article, which included Dixon and Lipscomb admitting to a past affair. The 46-page affidavit spells out evidence of gifts and trips to then-City Council President Dixon from Lipscomb and suggests that his companies benefited as a result. Lipscomb is a highly successful minority developer participating in projects that continue to reshape the Baltimore skyline.
The affidavit describes matters occurring largely in 2003 and ’04, when Dixon and Lipscomb say their affair occurred. The latest step in Rohrbaugh’s investigation occurred on June 17, when a search-and-seizure warrant was served on the mayor’s home.
Two of the others at both Double T meetings, Morris and Tonkins, surfaced in a federal probe in 2003 and ’04 that focused on minority developers tapping into the city’s program to promote minority participation in business. That investigation, which also explored the Dixon-Lipscomb nexus, collapsed in 2004 without indictments when then-U.S. Attorney for Maryland Thomas DiBiagio lost his job for appearing to behave politically in pushing for public-corruption indictments.
Morris is a developer who sometimes partners with Lipscomb on projects. In early 2004, he and Lipscomb were subpoenaed by DiBiagio to produce records of financial benefits their companies received from the city, and of any gifts they gave Dixon or other city officials. Morris, who in 2000 served as the interim chief of the Office on Minority Development under then-Mayor Martin O’Malley, has been on the Baltimore City School Board as an O’Malley appointee since 2003 and has been the board’s chairman since ’05. Messages for Morris left at the school board office were not returned.
Tonkins came from Paterson, N.J., in 2001 to replace Morris as O’Malley’s minority-business chief. He stayed in that position until his resignation in December 2003. After he left, The Sun reported that DiBiagio’s investigation was looking into whether Tonkins received gifts from Lipscomb, Morris, and other developers. The paper also reported that Rohrbaugh’s office had a grand jury looking into Tonkins’ dealings with developers, including one who claimed Tonkins penalized him for refusing to hire two New Jersey men for no-show jobs.
Tonkins appears not to have been charged in either investigation. He did not respond to phone messages and e-mails sent to his business, A.R.T. Enterprises, located on Hillen Road. Since 2004 Tonkins has been quoted in the press as the executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Minority Contractors (NAMC), and a 2006 court judgment against NAMC was served on Tonkins at A.R.T.’s Hillen Road address. However, calls to NAMC’s listed phone number were answered by an operator who had not heard of Tonkins and could not refer a reporter’s questions to anyone from the association. The operator suggested going to the NAMC web site, http://www.namcline.org, to leave an e-mail, but the site, which sells office supplies and industrial equipment, says nothing about NAMC and has no e-mail links.
The remaining two men listed on Dixon’s calendar as present at both Double T meetings, Henson and Branch, are not known to be tied to any of the Dixon investigations. Henson was then-Mayor Kurt Schmoke’s housing commissioner in the mid-1990s and is now a developer. Reached for confirmation that he was there for both meetings, Henson said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about. Goodbye,” and hung up the phone. Branch is the majority whip of the Maryland House of Delegates, representing East Baltimore 45th District. He did not respond to messages left at his office.
Also listed in Dixon’s calendar as present at the second meeting are attorneys William H. Murphy Jr. and Michael A. Brown, Baltimore County state Del. Adrienne Jones (D-10th District), and Terry Speigner, chairman of the Prince George’s County Democratic Central Committee.
Brown’s law firm, Brown and Sheehan, merged with Murphy’s firm last year. Murphy is a former judge and longtime criminal-defense attorney. One of his current clients is Prince George’s County state Sen. Ulysses Currie (D-25th), chairman of the powerful Budget and Taxation Committee. Currie’s home was raided May 29 by federal agents looking for evidence involving Currie’s undisclosed employment with a grocery-store chain. Currie’s other attorney is Dale Kelberman, who also is representing Dixon. Murphy, when reached by phone, declined to answer questions or confirm his presence at the Double T breakfast last October.
Brown’s firm employed Martin Cadogan, O’Malley’s longtime campaign treasurer. Between 2000 and ’06, when The Sun reported on the situation, the firm got $1.2 million in work as outside counsel for the city. Brown also was tapped in 2000 by newly elected O’Malley to head up a committee of civic leaders tasked with recommending public-safety reforms in city government. In recent years, according to state business records, Brown has been doing corporate legal work setting up companies for Lipscomb; he is listed as the resident agent of many of the 52 Lipscomb-related companies listed in last November’s affidavit for the Doracon search warrant. Messages left on Brown’s cell phone and at his office were not returned.
Jones phoned City Paper in response to an e-mail asking whether she attended the Double T breakfast meeting, but the call was missed; she did not respond to follow-up messages. Speigner did not respond to an e-mail but answered his phone, saying he was in a meeting and to please call back in a half-hour. He, too, did not respond to follow-up messages.
Rohrbaugh, reached at his office, declined to confirm or deny the existence of any investigation his office may or may not be conducting, which he does routinely. This time, though, Rohrbaugh was more specific in declining to confirm anything. When asked about the Doracon affidavit, and whether he could share the times of day when the Schwartz and Clark interviews occurred, he said, “I don’t even acknowledge that that is a true or accurate affidavit.”
The mayor’s official desk calendar, though, is a different kind of document. City Paper obtained it using the Maryland Public Information Act, and before it was released by the mayor’s office, many entries were redacted. There also are many appointments listed as “private,” with no details provided. City solicitor George Nilson explains in an e-mail that such entries are “not pertaining to city business.” Since the Double T meetings were not redacted, and not listed as private, the reasonable conclusion is that they pertained to the mayor’s official duties. Yet, as of press time, Dixon’s office declines to confirm her presence at the meetings or describe their nature and purpose.