Former Maryland State Senator Joseph J. Staszak, a once-powerful politican warlord in Baltimore who was awaiting sentencing on mail fraud and tax charges, drowned with a fishing companion in a boating accident, officials said Friday.
Staszak, 63, and Benjamin Taylorson, 53, of Edgemere apparently drowned after being thrown into the water when their boat struck a channel marker at about 9 p.m. Thursday, according to Baltimore County police. The two men had left to go fishing in Old Road Bay in eastern Baltiomre County.
Staszak was scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 28 in U.S. District Court in Baltimore on charges stemming from his ownership of a secret interest in the Dunalk tavern while he served on the Baltimore City Liquor Board. The Maryland Democrat, who originally protested his innocence had pleaded guilty on June 18 to charges of mail fraud and making false statements on his 1976 federal income tax returns.
Born in a Michigan farming community of Polish-Americans, Staszak moved to Baltimore in 1935. His Career in Maryland politics spanned two decades.
He entered public office in 1954 when he was appointed to a vacancy on the Baltimore City Council, where he became part of then Mayor Tommy D'Alesandro's political machine. He won three subsequent elections to the council and quit in 1966 to run for the Senate, where he served until 1975.
Staszak was among his city's organization politicans. He delivered the votes in East Baltimore, where he also operated a tavern.
"There has to be a boss," he once said of politics. "If you don't have someone to put it together, it will all fall apart."
In the Senate he achieved a certain notoriety in 1973 for his support of a hill outlawing the sale of packaged beer, wine and liquor at discount prices. Package sales made up about a third of his tavern's business.
Asked if that didn't constitute a conflict of interest. Staszak replied: "How does this conflit with my interest."
In 1975, former Gov. Marvin Mandel appointed Staszak to the Baltimore liquor license board. Staszak claimed to have given up his financial interest in Joe's Tavern. When he was indicted last March 28, however, prosecutors charged that he was "in fact, if not in name, the owner of Joe's Tavern," although ownership of the bar had been transferred on paper to his daughter and son-in-law.
The indictment alleged that Staszak received about $200,000 from tavern operations while he sat on the board that regulated the industry.
"What I did was wrong, your honor," he said when he pleaded guilty to the federal charges.
Even before his indictment, Staszak's political power in East Baltimore had begun to wane, but his long-time political ally, Baltimore City Councilman Dominic "Mimi" DiPietro mourned his death.
"He was a good man . . . an honest man," DiPietro said.