I can’t decide. Really, I can’t. Does the award go to Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon (D) for stealing “gift cards” intended for the city’s poor children and then not stepping down because of her conviction, or does it go to the jury that acquitted her of the felony charges against her. There is much more to this story, and I will be following it because it just ain’t makin’ any sense right now.
Jurors in the theft trial of Sheila Dixon convicted the Baltimore mayor Tuesday on a single charge of taking gift cards intended for the city’s poor.
Although Dixon was acquitted of a felony theft charge, her misdemeanor conviction could force her from office.
Jurors deliberated more than six days after hearing the Democrat was accused of using or keeping $630 worth of gift cards. She allegedly solicited most of the cards from a wealthy developer and then bought electronics at Best Buy, clothes at Old Navy and other items at Target.
The jury convicted her on one count of fraudulent misappropriation by a fiduciary and acquitted her on two counts of felony theft and one count of misconduct in office. Jurors failed to reach a verdict on another count of fraudulent misappropriation by a fiduciary. The conviction carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, but prosecutors have not decided whether they will seek jail time.
“The city will still continue to move forward,” Dixon said outside the courthouse after the verdict. “This city will continue to run. … We won’t miss a step.”
Some of her supporters applauded as she left the courthouse.
Her office released a statement from the mayor later in the day that said: “Today, I thank God for the strength He has given me. I want to thank my family for their undying support, and all of my staff, supporters, and friends for the countless prayers and encouraging words. Thank you for standing by me. The jury’s verdict today does not impact my responsibility to continue serving and I remain focused on keeping Baltimore on course in these trying economic times.
“I want the people of this great city to know that my administration is fortunate to have a talented and dedicated team of professionals running city agencies and departments. Like me, my team remains focused on the everyday business of this city. I am blessed with opportunity to serve the people of Baltimore.”
Earlier Tuesday, jurors sent a note to Judge Dennis M. Sweeney asking whether the panel needed to reach a unanimous decision on all five counts against the mayor. The note, written by juror No. 11 and signed by the forewoman, had the word “all” underlined.
Sweeney brought the jurors into the courtroom and explained to them that they could return a partial verdict. He did not take questions from the jurors in the courtroom, but said that they could send another note with any additional questions.
Several jurors nodded as Sweeney explained that the court can accept a partial verdict.
Because prosecutors used different legal theories in charging Dixon, she could have been convicted of a maximum of three counts. Dixon faced conviction on the following counts:
• Count One
The jury found Dixon not guilty of the most serious crime, felony theft. The jury decided that Dixon did not knowingly steal about $630 in Target and Best Buy gift cards purchased in December 2005 by developer Patrick Turner, who testified they were intended for “the children of Baltimore.” Dixon was City Council president at the time.
• Count Four
The jury convicted Dixon of embezzlement, a misdemeanor, for violating her fiduciary duties to the city and citizens of Baltimore by using the Target and Best Buy gift cards purchased in December 2005 by Turner and worth about $630.
• Count Three
Dixon was not convicted of theft for taking six Toys “R” Us gift cards purchased with taxpayer money in 2007 for a city housing department charity event called the Holly Trolley tour. Dixon gave one of the cards to a wealthy aide, and the others were found in a Victoria’s Secret shopping bag in Dixon’s home when it was raided last year.
• Count Six
The jury was hung on the count of embezzlement. Dixon was accused of violating her fiduciary duties to the city and citizens of Baltimore by taking the six Toys “R” Us gift cards intended for the city housing department’s 2007 Holly Trolley tour. Juror No. 3 said the jury was split, 9-3, in favor of convicting the mayor on this charge.
• Count Seven
Dixon was found not guilty of misconduct in office for stealing the Holly Trolley cards.
The five theft-related counts stemmed from a nearly four-year investigation into City Hall corruption that has centered on relationships between public officials and developers who have relied on tax breaks for projects.
Two of the original seven counts — felony theft of gift cards worth more than $500 and fraudulent misappropriation of the gift cards donated by Ronald H. Lipscomb and Doracon, owned by Lipscomb — were tossed out when the state rested its case without calling the developer, who said he had given Dixon gift cards for charity, as a witness.
After the verdict was read, State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh said that the jury made a courageous decision.
“It’s a sad day for Baltimore,” he said. ” … The message is that there’s nobody above the law.”
Looking ahead, Rohrbaugh said that he needs time to think about how to proceed on Count Six, the charge of embezzlement on the Holly Trolley gift cards. And the mayor’s legal troubles aren’t over with this case. She faces a separate trial on perjury charges stemming from accusations that she didn’t report gifts from Lipscomb.
Lipscomb told a grand jury that he once gave Dixon $4,000 after the Chicago shopping spree. Dixon apparently used the money to pay her American Express bill.
Rohrbaugh said he is going to continue to pursue the perjury case against the mayor.
Arnold M. Weiner, Dixon’s lead defense attorney, said that “all things are being considered” for their next move, and they planned to file post-trial motions. The jury deliberations continued “beyond the point that we believe to be appropriate,” he said.
You may want to go over and read the entire article as it details more of the mayor’s “above the law” mentality, and interesting tidbits about the jury during the deliberations.
And in our continued upside-down universe:
Investigation and indictment
On June 17, 2008, investigators from the Office of the State Prosecutor executed a search and seizure warrant at Dixon’s residence in southwest Baltimore. The result of, or purpose for the search was not immediately revealed by investigators. However, several subpoenas were issued to aides, and local reports indicate that the investigation includes a look at gifts, including several fur coats, as well as Dixon’s spending habits. Two of Dixon’s associates, campaign chair Dale Clark, and Mildred Boyer, a businesswoman who had hired Dixon’s sister, pleaded guilty in Spring 2008 to tax charges and are cooperating with prosecutors in the Dixon investigation. The affidavit filed to support a search warrant on the company Doracon was published on the Baltimore Sun’s website on June 23, 2008. The affidavit states that Dixon is being investigated regarding bribery.
On January 9, 2009, Dixon was indicted by a Baltimore Grand Jury on twelve counts, comprising four counts of perjury, two counts of misconduct, three counts of theft, and three counts of fraudulent misappropriations.
Dixon’s trial, originally scheduled for September 8, 2009, was postponed to November 9, 2009.
TrialMain article: Sheila Dixon trial
In November 2009, Dixon was tried for three counts of felony theft, three counts of misdemeanor embezzlement/misappropriation, and a single count of misconduct of office. The trial began on November 10, 2009. During the trial, two counts (one theft charge and one embezzlement/misappropriation charge) were dropped when prosecutors declined to call a key witness. On December 1, 2009, after seven days of deliberations, the jury returned verdicts on four of the five remaining counts. Dixon was found not guilty of the two felony theft charges, and one count of misconduct of office. She was found guilty on one misdemeanor embezzlement charge relating to her use of over $600 worth of retail store gift cards that were intended to be distributed to needy families. The jury was unable to reach a unanimous decision regarding the final charge of misdemeanor embezzlement.
As the result of being convicted, Dixon is at risk of being removed from office, and being stripped of her city retirement pension valued at over $80,000 per year for life. Dixon still faces perjury charges, with a trial planned for 2010.
Dixon ran for a full term as mayor in the 2007 election and won the Democratic Party primary in September. Dixon maintained a strong fundraising advantage throughout the campaign. Scores of public officials, unions and newspapers endorsed the Mayor’s campaign. This includes the Baltimore Sun, The Afro-American Newspaper, the AFL-CIO, former Rep. Kweisi Mfume, Minority Contractors Association, SEIU, SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, Gov. O’Malley, Comptroller Peter Franchot, Unite Here, United Auto Workers, and others.
The Baltimore Examiner noted “some observers are suggesting that it may be open and shut.” Morgan State University political science professor C. Vernon Gray confirmed the Examiner’s analysis when he noted, “it’s [Dixon’s] race to lose… she really has done an excellent job of governing despite all the crises she’s had.” Del. Jill Carter , City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell, Jr. and city schools administrator Andrey Bundley were noted as Mayor Dixon’s highest profile challengers.
A major issue during the primary mayoral campaign was crime. By mid-2007, homicides in Baltimore are on pace to surpass 300 for the year, the most since the early years of the O’Malley administration. On June 19th, Mayor Dixon presented her crime plan to 500 Baltimore police officers, but Dixon was attacked by Mitchell and Carter for not doing enough. Dixon’s crime plan departed from previous Mayor Martin O’Malley’s as it stressed community policing and focusing on apprehending the most violent offenders as opposed to zero tolerance. As of June 19th, there were 146 homicides and 340 non-lethal shootings in the city.
According to Johns Hopkins University political scientist Matthew Crenson, “Everybody complains about the homicides, but I think the assumption that many voters make, especially in Baltimore, is that the mayor can’t do a lot to reduce the homicide rate. And maybe Keiffer Mitchell made a mistake to make that the focus of his campaign.”
By the end of July 2007, Dixon’s campaign had been endorsed by the Baltimore Metropolitan Council of the Maryland AFL-CIO collectively as well as several individual union endorsements. Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot was the only state wide elected official to endorse Dixon until an August 13 rally where Governor Martin O’Malley gave his endorsement. Former Congressman Kweisi Mfume also endorsed Dixon at the same event in front of Baltimore’s City Hall. State Delegates Tom Hucker (Montgomery County), Maggie McIntosh, Curt Anderson, Cheryl Glenn, Melvin L. Stukes, Talmadge Branch, Senators Nathaniel J. McFadden and Cathy Pugh and Baltimore City Council members Robert Curran, Bernard “Jack” Young, Ed Reisinger, Stephanie Rawlings Blake and Agnes Welch have endorsed Dixon and were at the rally as well.