By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
As a boy, Tommy Bromwell was eager to please, a favorite among the nuns at his Catholic grade school. Years later, that charm made him popular at his family's tavern in a blue-collar suburb of Baltimore and, at age 29, helped him win a seat in the state legislature.
A burly man known for his bravado and rhetorical punch, he ascended in Annapolis, first as a delegate and then as a senator, becoming one of Maryland's most powerful public officials. But the swagger that drove Thomas L. Bromwell's remarkable rise in politics is gone now as he plans to plead guilty this morning to federal racketeering and tax crimes.
On the eve of his plea, which will bring closure to one of the state's largest public corruption investigations in years and will probably result in a prison sentence, Bromwell said yesterday in a rare interview that he has come to terms with his fate.
"After seven years of going through what I'm going through, I'm prepared to do what I got to do. I'm going to court tomorrow," Bromwell said in a deep and raspy voice, making his first public comments in months.
Looking back on his career, Bromwell, 58, said he hopes the criminal case doesn't cast too long a shadow over his legacy. "I've got to believe that in 24 years I did something good," he said.
Bromwell declined to discuss the details of the long-running criminal investigation of his relationship with a prominent contractor.
When asked whether the investigation has taken a toll on his personal life, Bromwell, who has two young children, said: "Are you kidding? Come on. How would it affect your family?
"It is what it is," he continued, "and we'll get through it."
Bromwell's twin sister, Terry J. Havrilak, described her brother as humiliated over the case, which includes allegations that he helped a commercial contactor win government work in exchange for cash and other gifts. Most stinging, she said, was the public release in March of transcripts of a recording of a dinner conversation peppered with vulgarities.
"I think he's embarrassed," she said in a separate interview yesterday. "He's been upset. He's been down. He doesn't want his kids and his family to go through this. Anybody would be."
Bromwell's plea, to be entered this morning in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, marks the stunning fall from grace of the ambitious son of a bricklayer who many believed had the talent to rise to the state Senate presidency.
Former colleagues described Bromwell as gregarious and flamboyant -- refreshing qualities, they said, in the traditionally buttoned-up State House. He wore a clunky gold ring inscribed with the Maryland state seal. While other lawmakers raised money at bull roasts and golf tournaments, Bromwell hosted an annual "Jamaican Me Crazy" fundraiser at which guests wore floral shirts.
"He was very social, very well-liked, very nice to people, just fun to be around," former state senator Barbara A. Hoffman said.
She believes Bromwell, who was not wealthy, took advantage of his political power to better his lifestyle.
"Tommy wanted to play with the big boys, and he didn't have the money to do it," Hoffman said. "He found a way to get the income he wanted but at a really, really high price, and I'm not sure he would do it again."
Bromwell and his wife, Mary Patricia, are the last known defendants in a sprawling investigation that in 2005 yielded a racketeering indictment that charged them and W. David Stoffregen, a former chief executive of the construction firm Poole and Kent, in a years-long conspiracy. Stoffregen pleaded guilty in November and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.
As chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, Bromwell allegedly performed a variety of official acts for Stoffregen's benefit. In exchange, Bromwell allegedly received payments of almost $200,000, concealed as salary paid to his wife for a no-show job, and free or discounted work at their home in Parkville.
"Someone in that position has the ability to wield a great deal of influence, and he certainly understood that and took advantage of it," said state Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery).
Colleagues described Bromwell's alleged criminal activity as tragic and spoke of him in the past tense: "He had a booming voice and a big presence." "He was the voice of the working man." "He thought of himself as a power broker."
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), whom Bromwell attempted to unseat in a daring coup in the final days of 2000, said Bromwell came from humble beginnings and had "God-given talents," such as a magnetic personality and fine oratory skills.
"I'm disheartened," Miller said. "He was a person with splendid abilities who made some serious errors and a very horrible misjudgment, and unfortunately his legacy is in shambles."
Michael Collins, a former state senator who grew close to Bromwell when they represented adjoining districts in Baltimore County, said he is sorry Bromwell "made the wrong choices."
"I have never enjoyed the fall of anyone," Collins said. "But in no way do I defend breaking the law. . . . The tragedy here was the choices Tommy made, knowingly."
In March, Bromwell's reputation was further damaged with the release of several hundred pages of transcripts of conversations involving Bromwell that had been secretly recorded by the FBI. In them, Bromwell was quoted as bragging about his influence with Comcast, where two of his sons were given jobs after he championed legislation that benefited the cable TV company. He also referred to himself as a "whore" in the state Senate for a Maryland racetrack owner.
During a raucous dinner in 2001 at Ruth's Chris Steak House in downtown Baltimore, Bromwell was quoted as dismissing the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse L. Jackson with racial epithets and using a vulgar word to describe then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D).
Bromwell and his wife signed a plea agreement with prosecutors last week. The agreement does not require that the Bromwells cooperate with authorities.
Thomas Bromwell could serve up to eight years in jail and his wife could face up to 30 months. Judge J. Frederick Motz will probably sentence the couple in the next two months, Bromwell's attorney, Barry J. Pollack, said.
U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein declined yesterday to discuss specifics of the case. "The only thing I would say today is I'm very proud of the way that this case has been handled by my office," he said.