Correction to This Article
A May 26 article misstated the prison term for former lobbyist Jack Abramoff. He is serving five years and 10 months, not five to 10 months, for his role in the fraudulent purchase of a fleet of casino cruise boats.
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Duncan to Return Abramoff-Tied Funds

"Last year, I reviewed my campaign account to see if I had received any contributions from Mr. Abramoff and had none," Douglas M. Duncan says. (By Andrea Bruce -- The Washington Post)

A Maryland State Board of Elections official, Jared DeMarinis, said this week that a campaign contribution "has to come from the person" making the donation to be legal.

John Pangelinan, owner of Bobbie's Amusement, another business that sent $4,000 to Duncan in July 1999, said he couldn't recall who solicited his contribution. Pangelinan is publisher of the Saipan Tribune, a Tan Holdings subsidiary. "I contributed, but I don't know why I contributed -- I don't even know" Duncan, he said.

The Bobbie's Amusement check bounced, a Duncan campaign spokeswoman said last night, declining to be named because the matter predates Duncan's gubernatorial campaign.

The Saipan contributions occurred a month before Duncan signed a lease -- over community and school system opposition -- that gave the Yeshiva of Greater Washington the option to buy Belt Junior High, an unused and largely dilapidated building in Wheaton. Then-Superintendent Paul L. Vance said before the lease was approved that the school system wanted to modernize and reopen the facility and keep it public. The County Council backed Duncan and authorized the transaction.

A group of residents sued the county to block the transaction, arguing that "the result will be an unlawful permanent transfer of public property to a private interest at a grossly inadequate price." The assessed value of the property in 1998 was $9.7 million; the sale price under the agreement was $1.75 million.

In 2001, Superintendent Jerry L. Weast reclaimed the school. School and county officials then found another unused public school, in Silver Spring, for Yeshiva. Duncan had a bill introduced in the council to exempt the transaction from a review mechanism instituted after the Belt transaction.

Yeshiva lost the option to purchase, but it obtained a lease that can stretch as long as 90 years for a rent of $40,000 a year. The county also gave Yeshiva $9.8 million to cover the cost of improvements it had made to the Belt property.

Dennis Berman, a Yeshiva board member and Duncan contributor, said the transfer of the schools has been a "win-win" for Yeshiva, its neighbors and the county. His donations to Duncan, as well as those by other Yeshiva backers, are unrelated to the school deals, Berman said. "I'm still giving to him for a job that doesn't do me a lick of good," he added, referring to Duncan's aspiration to be elected governor.

Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.

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