Md. lawmaker reprimanded for bill that would have helped his real-estate practice

Brian Witte/AP - Del. Tony McConkey (R-Anne Arundel), photographed on March 13, 2012 in Annapolis, Md. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

Maryland’s House of Delegates on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly to reprimand one of its own for working to insert language in a bill last year that would have directly benefited the lawmaker’s business as a real estate broker.

Anne Arundel County Del. Tony McConkey “drafted, offered, lobbied and voted for” a provision that would have allowed him to reinstate his Maryland real-estate license while he still owes one of the state’s largest fines on record for having preyed on homeowners in foreclosure, according to a legislative ethics report released Monday.

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McConkey is still a practicing real-estate broker in the District. His maneuvering on the bill, first reported last year by The Washington Post, also would have cut interest charges and processing fees that could have saved McConkey and a small handful of other delinquent Maryland brokers tens of thousands of dollars.

The House voted 127-3 to adopt a resolution of reprimand, an admonishment just one step below the censure last year of veteran Prince George’s legislator Ulysses Currie for his failure to disclose outside consulting payments that became the subject of a federal investigation.

Like Currie (D) before him, McConkey was asked to make a public apology. But unlike Currie’s somber tone, McConkey’s on Tuesday took on a combative one that colleagues on both sides of the aisle derided as something less than repentant.

“I do humbly apologize, with great regret, that the ethics committee found that I acted improperly,” McConkey, said, “Not to provide an excuse, but if the body would indulge me, two minutes, just to provide an explanation...”

McConkey, who had admitted “lobbying hard” for the bill to lawmakers investigating his actions, then went on to claim that colleagues had approved the measure with little interference from him. “People thought it was a good amendment,” he said. McConkey also suggested the legislature’s chief ethics adviser had cleared him of any wrongdoing.

McConkey’s defense of what the legislative ethics committee had ruled indefensible left many lawmakers slack-jawed and prompted Baltimore Del. Shawn Tarrant (D) to walk off the House floor while McConkey was still speaking. “Does that sound like an apology?” he asked a colleague before getting up from his chair.

The remarks also drew a terse rebuttal from Del. Brian K. McHale (D-Baltimore), co-chair of the ethics committee.

“I feel compelled to address that,” McHale said. “Anyone with a clear mind… would have clearly known…that it was an act of misconduct to have presented that amendment and to have lobbied both houses to have it passed ... I would not want anyone to anyhow misinterpret the advice that the ethics counsel gave.”

Three Republicans voted against the reprimand, including Del. Don Dwyer (R-Anne Arundel). Dwyer was the only lawmaker to speak on the resolution. He dryly said he was “honored that we all care so much about our oath that we’re going to do this to our fellow member.”

Afterward Dwyer said he was not defending McConkey but voted no “to point out the hypocrisy ... We have lawyers who regularly pass legislation in their name, that they financially benefit from. It’s hypocrisy to do this selectively when we ought to be calling people out on a regular basis.”

The other two no votes were Del. Glen Glass (R-Cecil) and Del. Neil Parrott (R-Washington). An aide to Glass said he felt there was not enough information to vote yes. Parrott did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Speaking to a reporter afterward, McConkey appeared bewildered at the House’s displeasure, and questioned the process by which he was investigated by colleagues.

“They’re very secretive. It’s like the college of cardinals,” he said.

In 2010, McConkey was ordered to pay $75,000 for what an administrative law judge called “fraudulent and unethical” behavior in real estate transactions. In one instance, the state found that McConkey promised to help a woman keep her home, then didn’t return her calls, bought her property in foreclosure and sought to evict her.

Under the measure inserted into the bill last year by McConkey, he and others could have entered long-term payment plans to replenish a state fund used to compensate consumers who suffer financial losses as a result of actions by Maryland real estate professionals. Three of McConkey’s clients were each paid the maximum $25,000 from the fund, making his debt to the state fund the largest of any real estate licensee in the five years preceding the 2010 decision.

At the time McConkey sought to pass the measure last year, the Maryland Real Estate Commission said it had no evidence McConkey had paid any of the balance due.

Under an agreement with the state, his license to sell homes in Maryland was suspended for one year. But commission officials said he would need to pay the entire amount due before seeking reinstatement of his license.

McConkey’s measure would have halved the 12 percent interest rate on his debt to the state, and eliminated another 16-percent charge for processing the fee. It also would have allowed McConkey to regain his license if he began a payment plan.

The measure was tucked into a bill that lawmakers said had to pass. Without it, the Real Estate Commission, which licenses the state’s 41,000 real estate brokers and other industry professionals, would have ceased to exist.

Sen. Edward R. Reilly (R-Anne Arundel) filed the complaint last April after he said McConkey cursed at him in a heated exchange urging him to support the measure.

Reilly said he took no pleasure in the result.

“I’m never pleased with this kind of thing. This is a black mark on the entire General Assembly. The public has a poor attitude about elected officials in general, and this just supports the stereotype.”

 
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