Baltimore Mayor to Resign Under Plea Deal

BALTIMORE -- Mayor Sheila Dixon resigned as part of a deal with prosecutors Wednesday, ending a three-year tenure that began with promise but unraveled amid embarrassing allegations that she stole from the poor.

Dixon, 56, was convicted last month of misappropriating about $500 in gift cards donated to the city for needy families during her time as City Council president. Had she not agreed to step down, she could have been thrown out of office.

On Wednesday, she pleaded guilty to a perjury charge for failing to disclose thousands of dollars in gifts from her ex-boyfriend, a developer who received tax breaks from the city. She entered an Alford plea, meaning she admits there is enough evidence to convict her but does not acknowledge guilt.

Dixon's voice wavered as she thanked her staff, but she did not apologize for her actions.

"I take responsibility for some of the choices that I made," Dixon said. "I think I've disappointed myself to some degree, and I think I've disappointed citizens."

In exchange for her plea, prosecutors and Judge Dennis M. Sweeney agreed Dixon will receive probation before judgment on both counts, meaning the convictions will be wiped off her record if she complies with several conditions, including a $45,000 charitable contribution and 500 hours of community service.

Dixon will also be barred from seeking employment with the city or state during her probation, which will last at least two years and up to four. She can run for public office again after her probation ends.

The deal also allows her to keep her city pension, which she would have had to forfeit with a conviction on her record. The Baltimore Sun reported the pension was worth $83,000, but the figure couldn't immediately be confirmed by The Associated Press.

"This is a result that makes a lot of sense for Miss Dixon and the city of Baltimore," said Arnold M. Weiner, the mayor's lead attorney. However, he added, "I think the people of Baltimore would have been better off if she'd been able to remain as mayor."

Dixon had a trial in November that dealt with allegations that she stole gift cards intended for needy families. Her trial on two counts of perjury was scheduled for March.

In pleading guilty to perjury, she acknowledged that prosecutors would present evidence that she received thousands of dollars in cash, fur coats, travel and other gifts from Ronald H. Lipscomb, whom she dated for less than a year beginning in late 2003.

Dixon did not report any gifts from Lipscomb despite a requirement that she do so.

As Deputy State Prosecutor Thomas M. McDonough read in court from a statement of facts detailing how Lipscomb gave her cash to pay her American Express bill after a shopping spree in Chicago, Dixon blurted out, "Your honor, those things are not true."

State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh said he hoped the case would send a message to politicians. "Even if you commit what some would consider a minor offense, you're going to lose your job," he said.

Dixon has been mayor since January 2007, when she took over for fellow Democrat Martin O'Malley after he was elected governor. She was the first woman to hold the job, and she easily won election that fall to a full four-year term.

After her conviction, Dixon gave every indication she would fight to stay in office. Rohrbaugh said outside court that Dixon's attorneys first contacted him about a possible plea about a week ago.

The only public hint that Dixon had changed course came in an impromptu interview with The Baltimore Sun published in Wednesday's editions. She spoke with regret about her romance with Lipscomb.

City residents were surprised and saddened. Kenny Scott, 49, a Dixon supporter, said he didn't think she deserved to be forced from office.

"I thought she would hold on until her term was up," Scott said.

Pless B. Jones, president of the Maryland Minority Contractors Association and head of Baltimore-based P&J Contracting Co., blamed racism and politics for Dixon's fall. The mayor is African-American.

"If it had been somebody else, a different color, this would not have gone on," he said.

City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, a Democrat, will replace Dixon.

"This is a difficult and sad time for Baltimore," Rawlings-Blake said in a statement. "My goal is making sure that the city is protected and that public safety and essential services are maintained."