Sen. Exum Is Subject Of Probe By FBI

Sen. Exum lobbied on behalf of an auto repair shop whose license to inspect vehicles had been revoked.
Sen. Exum lobbied on behalf of an auto repair shop whose license to inspect vehicles had been revoked. (James M. Thresher - Twp)
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By Rosalind S. Helderman and John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, September 6, 2008

The FBI has launched an inquiry into Maryland Sen. Nathaniel Exum (D-Prince George's), questioning a now-retired state police captain and a fellow senator about Exum in recent months.

Robert F. Bambary, who retired after 35 years with the state police July 1, said he was interviewed by an FBI agent in June about Exum's advocacy on behalf of a Prince George's automobile repair shop that sought to resume Maryland state automobile inspections four years after its license to do so was revoked because of fraudulent practices.

Bambary said the agent also took copies of Maryland State Police files on Hilltop Fleet Services, the Capitol Heights repair shop located just outside Exum's legislative district.

A Senate colleague of Exum's said he also was interviewed in late spring by an FBI agent, primarily about any involvement Exum might have had in legislation this year to introduce new reporting requirements for Maryland scrap metal yards in an effort to curb rising metal thefts.

Exum, who works for a Capitol Heights-based scrap yard, participated in a legislative work group on the bill and sat on a conference committee to reconcile differences between versions of the bill passed by the House of Delegates and the Senate. The bill died on the last day of the General Assembly's legislative session. Exum has disclosed his employment in state filings. State ethics officials said he could vote on the bill because it affected companies in addition to his own.

The senator, who requested anonymity because of what he perceived to be the preliminary nature of the inquiry, said he was also asked what he knew about Exum's role in reinstating Hilltop's license. "I sensed they were kind of fishing," the senator said.

Exum said yesterday that he was not aware of the FBI interviews and had no comment. "I don't have anything to say about that," he said.

The FBI has been conducting a separate investigation of another state senator from Prince George's. Sen. Ulysses Currie (D) is under scrutiny for his financial relationship with the Shoppers Food and Pharmacy grocery chain.

Rich Wolf, an FBI spokesman, would neither confirm nor deny the existence of an Exum probe.

According to Bambary, the FBI agent was particularly interested in whether Exum might have a financial tie to Hilltop Fleet Services. Bambary said he told the agent that he had no evidence of such a tie.

Hilltop owner James L. Wilson did not respond to phone messages yesterday. John Johnson, Wilson's assistant at Hilltop, said he was unaware of the FBI interviews. Johnson blamed Bambary for the station's problems with the state police, accusing the retired captain of targeting Hilltop. Bambary denied the accusation.

According to court records and state police documents, Hilltop's license to inspect vehicles was suspended in 2002 and its license revocation was upheld in 2004 after state police found that the station had issued 2,067 inspection certificates in a five-month period. Police estimated that mechanics could inspect only 872 cars in that time. Police also conducted surveillance of the shop. On one day, the station issued 10 inspection certificates, but no vehicles matching the certificates entered the station's driveway.

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