Baltimore Mayor Indicted on Perjury, Theft Charges

BALTIMORE -- From Best Buy to Saks Fifth Avenue, from Old Navy to Giorgio Armani, prosecutors allege Mayor Sheila Dixon went shopping in a big way with other people's money.

Dixon was indicted Friday on 12 counts, including perjury and theft, mostly for activity that occurred while she was City Council president. And most of the charges against her suggest an affinity for both high-end and big-box retail.

At one point in December 2005, the indictment says, Dixon brazenly called an unnamed developer and hit him up for $500 worth of Best Buy gift cards, which she said would be donated to needy families.

Instead, five days later -- and a week before Christmas -- the future mayor allegedly strolled into a Best Buy in downtown Baltimore and spent 19 of the 20 gift cards, walking out with a digital camcorder and a PlayStation 2 controller, among other goods.

Similar scenarios played out several times, always around Christmas, always with gift cards that, at least in name, were supposed to be handed out to the poor, the indictment says.

"The allegation is that she stole from little children at Christmastime," said David Gray, a law professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. "The indictment is alleging that she was a Grinch of the worst kind."

The indictment against Dixon was the culmination of a wide-ranging investigation of city government that lasted nearly three years. It includes no allegations that she let cash or gifts influence the way she did her job. But at the very least, it hints that the mayor, whose salary is $151,700, likes to shop but would rather not have to pay.

The charges against Dixon include four counts of perjury and two counts of theft under $500. The perjury counts relate to her failure to disclose gifts from Ronald H. Lipscomb, a developer who received tax breaks from the city.

Lipscomb, who dated Dixon briefly in late 2003 and early 2004, first bought gift cards for Dixon under the auspices of handing them out to the poor in December 2004, according to the indictment. Dixon held onto them for a year before using them during her Christmas shopping in 2005, the indictment says.

The same thing went on in 2005 and 2006, the indictment says, including that 2005 gift from a different developer. And in 2007, Dixon allegedly received Toys R Us gift cards from a city employee and gave one to a staffer, keeping several more.

During a lengthy denunciation of the indictment, Dixon's attorney, Arnold M. Weiner, said most of the gift cards she received went to the intended recipients and characterized the ones she kept for herself as private gifts that she was under no obligation to disclose.

"I am being unfairly accused," Dixon said in a statement. "Time will prove that I have done nothing wrong, and I am confident that I will be found innocent of these charges."

Dixon said she would not step down, and public appearances for Saturday remained on her schedule. "I will not let these charges deter me from keeping Baltimore on the path that we have set," she said.

Dixon, a 55-year-old Democrat, served on the City Council from 1987 through 2007 and as council president from 1999 through 2007. She became mayor in January 2007, finishing the term of Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley, and was easily elected to a full, four-year term later that year.

The state prosecutor's investigation has overshadowed her tenure as mayor. While many political observers worried that an indictment could come at any time, the mayor nonetheless earned praise for efficient management, shrewd hiring and coolheaded responses to crises.

The most recent bit of good news to emerge during her tenure: a historic drop in homicides. Baltimore recorded 234 slayings in 2008, its lowest total in 20 years.

City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and City Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector were quick to defend Dixon and praise her performance as mayor. Some residents, too, weren't convinced she did anything wrong.

Construction worker Michael Scott said he believes the allegations were racially motivated. Dixon is the first black woman to serve as mayor of Baltimore.

"I'm pretty sure they got it twisted up," Scott said. "They could be saying anything just to drag her down. Prove it to me."

After consulting with City Solicitor George Nilson, Weiner said the charges would not affect Dixon's ability to continue in her job.

The charges of theft over $500 are felonies and each carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison. Each perjury count carries a maximum of 10 years; misappropriation by a fiduciary carries 5 years; misdemeanor theft carries at most 18 months; and misconduct in office has no specific penalties.

Dixon's attorney accused State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh of unfairly targeting Dixon and coming up with unimpressive charges, noting she was not accused of bribery.

"Sheila Dixon has been the state prosecutor's singular, personal obsession over the past four years," said Weiner. "There wasn't a bedsheet that he failed to look under or a lead that he found too trivial for him to pursue personally."

Rohrbaugh declined through his office to respond to Weiner's statements.

The indictment against Dixon does not name Lipscomb, who was indicted Wednesday on one charge of bribing a City Council member. But Weiner confirmed Lipscomb was "Developer A" mentioned in the indictment who showered the mayor with gifts and took several trips with her in late 2003 and early 2004.

Both were married at the time, although they were separated from their spouses. Dixon has since divorced.

Dixon and Lipscomb stayed in lavish hotels together, and the mayor pampered herself with two fur coats and high-end skin products on Lipscomb's dime, according to the indictment.

The indictment describes an elaborate scheme by which Lipscomb paid for part of a shopping spree Dixon enjoyed during a stay in Chicago. At one point, Dixon gave $4,000 in cash to a city employee, who deposited it in his personal checking account and wrote a check to pay off part of Dixon's American Express bill, according to the indictment.

Dixon obtained the cash after Lipscomb cashed a corporate check worth $15,000 and the two exchanged several phone calls, the indictment says.

Dixon spent nearly $9,500 in Chicago at stores including Saks Fifth Avenue, Coach and St. John's Boutique, the indictment says.

That spending spree was first made public last summer, when court documents related to the state proseuctor's investigation of Dixon were leaked. Dixon said at the time that she was disciplined about her shopping and maintained strict budgets.

"I don't buy that often," Dixon said. "But when I buy, I buy quality."