LOCAL DIGEST

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

GOVERNMENT

Pr. George's gets $400 million

About $400 million in federal stimulus money has been awarded to local governments and businesses in Prince George's County, according to preliminary data.

The funds will allow county and municipal officials to hire 55 police officers and purchase public safety equipment.

County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) said Monday that the funds have prevented as many as 500 county employees from being laid off. About $23 million of the money will go to local contractors, creating or saving 241 jobs, officials said.

The county level numbers are based on preliminary data released by the Obama administration last week. Final nationwide numbers are expected to come out at the end of the month.

-- Jonathan Mummolo

Competing plans on slots casinos

Anne Arundel County Council Chairman Cathleen M. Vitale said Monday that she hopes to break a stalemate by the end of the year over zoning legislation needed to build Maryland's largest proposed slots casino at Arundel Mills mall.

Council member Ronald C. Dillon Jr. (R-Pasadena) and Vitale (R-Severna Park) planned to introduce competing legislation Monday night: one bill that would allow slots at the mall, and one that would allow slots at several other locations in the county south of Route 32, including at Laurel Park racetrack.

Only one qualified plan, an effort by Baltimore-based Cordish Cos. to put 4,750 slot machines at the mall, is pending before the state commission charged with picking the locations of Maryland's five slots operators.

Vitale said that she has come to think that "slots at Arundel Mills is a more difficult site than people initially thought."

David S. Cordish said he is confident that his company will secure the needed zoning, saying it "is far and away the best location for the county and state."

A bill that would have allowed zoning at the mall languished for months before the County Council earlier this year. Neither Dillon nor Vitale said they could guarantee the outcome of a December vote by the seven-member council. An unfavorable result for Cordish could prompt the state commission to reopen bidding.

-- John Wagner

COURTS

Man ordered held in D.C. taxi probe

A federal judge ordered the pretrial detention of a suspect in an alleged D.C. taxi bribery scheme, saying the man was a danger to the community because he threatened the life of a government witness.

In ordering Yitbarek Syume's continued detention, U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman reversed an order by another judge to free the suspect. U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson ordered Syume freed to a halfway house Oct. 9 because she thought that the government's evidence was too weak to justify his confinement. Prosecutors appealed the decision.

Syume, 52, is accused of giving more than $300,000 in bribes to the chairman of the D.C. Taxi Commission in exchange for taxi licenses. Thirty-eight other people have been charged in the alleged scam.

In the District's federal court Monday, prosecutors played a recording of a meeting between Syume and the commission chairman, Leon J. Swain Jr. That meeting took place at a parking lot in Southeast Washington last month, the day after a D.C. Council staffer was arrested on bribery charges, prosecutors said.

On the tape, Syume says he will "eliminate" a government witness who was identified in a newspaper story that morning. Unbeknownst to Syume, Swain was also working as a government informant and was wearing a recording device.

Swain had been cooperating with federal authorities for about two years in their probe of taxi corruption. Friedman said "the tape is clear" that Syume's "intent was to kill" the witness. No trial date has been set.

Syume's attorney, Thomas Abbenante, argued that his client, a U.S. citizen, was not a flight risk and had no history of violence. "We are obviously disappointed with the decision, but we fully understand the judge's ruling," he said.

-- Del Quentin Wilber

Man pleads guilty to sex with girl, 16

A former Maryland ROTC teacher pleaded guilty in Northern Virginia on Monday to traveling across state lines to have sex with a 16-year-old female student, prosecutors said.

Mark A. Jackson, 43, of Alexandria entered the plea in U.S. District Court in Alexandria.

He will face up to 30 years in prison when he is sentenced Jan. 8.

Prosecutors said Jackson met the student in 2007 when he was an ROTC instructor at Charles Herbert Flowers High School in Springdale.

He twice picked her up from her house in Maryland and drove her to his apartment, where they had intercourse, prosecutors said.

-- Jerry Markon

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