Dixon to resign as Baltimore mayor in ethics probe deal

By Julie Bykowicz
The Baltimore Sun
Thursday, January 7, 2010; B01

Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon will resign next month, part of a plea deal reached Wednesday that brings a years-long corruption investigation to a close and ends the tenure of the city's first female mayor.

Dixon, 56, will be sentenced Feb. 4. Under the terms of the agreement, in which she added a guilty plea in a perjury case to last month's jury conviction for embezzlement, she will cease leading the city that day.

She may not hold any city or state position for at least two years. She is to perform 500 hours of community service and pay $45,000 to charity. None of her attorneys' fees can be paid with public money. If she completes her probation within four years, her criminal record will be wiped clean.

She will probably be able to keep her $83,000 pension, which she would begin collecting the moment she steps down.

A teary Dixon announced her resignation hours after the court proceeding, choking up as she said it was "with great sadness" that she would leave office. She did not apologize but said there would come a time after sentencing when she could give her full side of the story.

The first black woman elected to the City Council presidency, Dixon has been a public official for 23 years. She was raised in West Baltimore, where she still lives. She is twice divorced and has a daughter in college and a younger son.

After Mayor Martin O'Malley (D) was elected governor in 2006, Dixon assumed the city's top job. She was elected in her own right the next fall and has been a popular mayor whose signature programs include recycling, homeless services and street repaving.

Dixon will turn over power to City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. Both are Democrats.

Rawlings-Blake did not attend the news conference at City Hall. She later released a statement calling this time "sad and difficult" for Baltimore and vowing a smooth transition of power. She did not mention Dixon.

State prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh said he was satisfied with the court outcome, which he said was a good deal for the city.

"It was time for this case to come to an end," he said. "It's time for the city of Baltimore to move forward with a new mayor. This is a disgraced mayor."

The prosecutor, who has been investigating Dixon since March 2006, said that the mayor's defense team approached him about a week ago and that plea discussions began in earnest Monday.

Dixon's attorney, Arnold M. Weiner, said she agreed to the deal because she felt she would otherwise "be dragging the city and the people of the city behind her" through what could have been years of court battles. He also said Dixon's pension was a driving factor.

The agreed-upon sentence of "probation before judgment" in both cases, Weiner said, "was necessary for her to preserve the pension."

Roselyn Spencer, head of the city's employee and elected officials retirement systems, said Dixon is eligible to begin collecting her annual pension immediately on stepping down.

But it was clear in the courtroom that Dixon had mixed feelings about her decision.

When Judge Dennis M. Sweeney asked whether she was entering the plea deal voluntarily, Dixon replied, "Basically." Later, as a state prosecutor read the facts of the perjury case, Dixon exclaimed, "Your honor, those things are not true."

On the perjury charge, Dixon pleaded guilty under the Alford rule, meaning she did not admit guilt but acknowledged prosecutors had enough evidence to convict her.

That case, which was to go to trial in March, involved lavish presents from her former boyfriend, developer Ronald H. Lipscomb, in late 2003 and 2004 when she was City Council president. Dixon did not report the gifts, which included a $2,000 gift certificate to a local furrier, shopping sprees and pricey trips to Chicago, New York and Colorado, on her financial disclosure forms, a violation of law punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Dixon was indicted almost a year ago. Those charges were thrown out for technical reasons, and she was reindicted months later on one set of theft-related charges and a pair of perjury charges.

On Dec. 1, a jury of 12 Baltimore residents found her guilty of embezzlement, a misdemeanor, for misusing retail gift cards donated to her office by developer Patrick Turner. Dixon spent about $500 in Target and Best Buy cards to purchase a game system and other items for her family and staff members.

As part of Wednesday's plea deal, the prosecutor will not pursue any criminal charges from his investigation of Dixon, and Dixon will not fight the jury conviction.

Baltimore Sun reporters Jay Hancock, Liz Kay, Annie Linskey and Julie Scharper contributed to this report.

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