By Eric Rich
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Thomas L. Bromwell claimed to be driven by principle when, as a Maryland state senator in 2000, he led a legislative effort that allowed Comcast and other companies to charge customers late fees at rates that courts had deemed excessive.
Certainly, Bromwell said as the Senate debated the measure, the higher rates were "in the best interest of the consumer." He elaborated the next day by saying: "These companies need to have some means of preventing people from paying bills late."
According to newly released transcripts of conversations secretly recorded by the FBI, the Baltimore County Democrat spoke privately about the influence he felt he had with Comcast as a result of his efforts. Bromwell, who is expected to face trial on public corruption charges this year, is quoted as telling two associates over dinner at a Ruth's Chris Steak House that the cable TV company was indebted to him.
"I saved Comcast $75 million," Bromwell is quoted as saying during an exchange with retired FBI agent Joe Carroll, who was posing as Joe Carson, an ethically lax out-of-state financier.
"They ought to be jumping up and kissing your [expletive]," Carroll responds.
"Joe -- now you get -- "
" -- now you get the picture. Now you get the picture."
"They're beholden," Carroll says.
Yesterday, one day after the transcripts were unsealed on the order of a federal judge, public advocacy groups cited that and other exchanges as evidence of the grip that corporate interests hold in Annapolis. The transcripts show "that anyone who thinks that the days when legislators are bought by the highest bidder are long gone is sadly mistaken," said Mary Boyle, a spokeswoman for Common Cause.
Bromwell, who did not respond to a message seeking comment, is also quoted in the transcript as saying he believed he "did the right thing" with the legislation on late fees. Marcia A. Murphy, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein, declined to comment.
Beth Baca, a spokeswoman for Comcast, said the company had acted properly and had cooperated with federal authorities in the investigation that led to the former senator's indictment late in 2005. Comcast has previously acknowledged receiving a subpoena in connection with that probe.
Bromwell, who was among the most powerful figures in Annapolis when he left office in 2002, is charged with performing a variety of official acts as a senator for the benefit of a contractor in exchange for a no-show job for his wife and other favors.
According to the transcripts, Bromwell signaled a willingness to extract favors from Comcast. At one point, he is quoted as telling the retired agent that his two sons were given jobs there. According to the transcript, Bromwell boasted of his friendship with Stephen A. Burch, then the regional head of the cable company.
"Well, let me say this," Bromwell is quoted as saying. "If I run for county executive and lose, I've got a job with Comcast cable."
Burch could not be reached yesterday for comment.
The company, the region's dominant cable provider, drew criticism last year after a report in The Washington Post detailed its history of hiring current or former public officials and their family members. Among those on the Comcast payroll were the wife of then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), a daughter of state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), and former county executives from Prince George's and Harford counties. Within the company, the recruits were known informally as "FOBs" -- Friends of Burch.
At the time of the gathering at the Baltimore steakhouse, Bromwell was collecting $80,000 a year as an employee of Baltimore-based Network Technologies Group, a now-defunct telecommunications company. In disclosure forms that state lawmakers must file, he said he was involved in quality control assurance.
The racketeering indictment against Bromwell disputes that claim, charging him with lying to the FBI in 2002, when he denied being involved in developing business or sales for the company.
Elsewhere in the transcripts, Bromwell is quoted as admitting that he was a "rainmaker" for the company and as saying that he secured a commitment from Comcast that the company would hire NTG to lay cable in Baltimore.
At the steakhouse, Carroll is quoted as noting that no contract between Comcast and NTG exists and asking Bromwell how he could be sure that Comcast would give work to NTG.
"Joe," Bromwell is quoted as saying, "Comcast needs me big-time."