Accountant Denies Aiding Bribe Scheme

By Eric Rich
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 6, 2006

An Upper Marlboro accountant, testifying at his own trial yesterday, denied that he conspired with two Prince George's County officials to demand a $250,000 bribe from a security company in exchange for a county contract worth more than $1 million.

At the trial, which is winding toward conclusion after six days of testimony, prosecutors have accused accountant Paul L. Wright of serving as the bagman in a 2004 bribery scheme targeting Interior Systems Inc. They allege that payments in exchange for the contract were to be laundered through one of Wright's companies.

The investigation by State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh, in cooperation with the FBI and other agencies, has led to the conviction of Robert L. Isom, the former deputy director of the county Department of Environmental Resources. Isom pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery last September and testified against Wright last week.

As the prosecution and Isom described it, the cost of the scheme would have been borne by taxpayers: ISI, a subcontractor, was to recover the cost of the bribery payments through change orders that were to be approved by county staff after the contract was awarded.

Wright's trial in Prince George's Circuit Court has offered a preview of the evidence prosecutors will probably present next month at the trial of the official they have painted as the ringleader, Robert L. Thomas, the former deputy director of the county's Office of Central Services.

"Mr. Thomas could sell his integrity for big bucks," Deputy State Prosecutor Thomas M. McDonough said in opening statements last week. "There was just one flaw in that plan," he added later. "They picked the wrong guys to ask for the money."

Thomas's attorney, William C. Brennan, who watched Wright's testimony yesterday, declined to comment last night.

Wright testified yesterday that he believed the $10,000 payment to his company in November 2004 -- more were to follow -- was part of a legitimate consulting arrangement. Wright said he did not realize that Thomas, his business associate and an acquaintance of nearly a decade, was a county employee.

Wright's attorneys, Carol Elder Bruce and Anthony J. Pagano, have suggested that their client was unwittingly used by Thomas.

ISI employee Melvin Pulley testified that he bumped into Isom at a restaurant in September 2004 and that the two chatted about the county business ISI was seeking with its partner in the arrangement, primary contractor ADT/Tycho. The next day, Pulley testified, he received a call from Isom.

"He asked me, would ISI play," Pulley testified. "I said, sure, as long as ISI knew what the game was."

The two revisited the topic at lunch several days later, when Isom slid a note across the table, Pulley testified.

"He said, I have something for you but I want you to read this just in case you're wired," Pulley said in testimony that was largely corroborated by Isom.

The note guaranteed the contract, with change orders that Thomas would authorize, in exchange for the bribe, both men testified.

Pulley told his bosses at ISI, and the company called the authorities. For several months, ISI officials secretly recorded phone calls and meetings at which the arrangement -- in varying degrees of specificity and ambiguity -- was discussed.

Yesterday, Wright said Thomas approached him in October 2004 and asked that he draft a consulting agreement to work with companies seeking business in the Washington area.

Wright -- unaware, he said, of the conflict presented by Thomas's work as a county employee -- testified that he considered it "a good, legitimate business opportunity."

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