A prominent Baltimore County atorney was indicted yesterday on six counts of perjury and obstruction of justice after a two-year federal undercover investigation of county zoning practices in which the FBI set up a "sting" -like operation with a development firm as a front.
The indictment of Towson lawyer W. Lee Harrison constitutes another chapter in the scandal-marred recent history of Baltimore County, a jurisdiction in which former chief executives Sprio T. Agnew and Dale Anderson were chaged with improprieties in office.
Federal investigators yesterday said they expect to issue further indictments as a result of their probe, which they said has widened to include past and present zoning commissioners and planning officials in the suburban county surrounding Baltimore City.
"This is only the tip of the spear," said one official close to the investigation.
The charges against Harrison, a 60-year-old lawyer who has been active in land use and zoning cases in Baltimore County for more than two decades, stemmed from a scheme set up by the FBI to trap alleged corrupt zoning officials and lawyers.
According to the indictment, Harrison, who was retained as counsel by McLean Properties Joint Venture -- the FBI front development firm -- lied to a federal grand jury and induced another witness to lie about $7,500 in cash he allegedly received from an FBI operative.
McLean Properties was set up in the summer of 1978. According to the indictment, the FBI was assissted in the undercover operation by F. Pearson Ames, a Maryland construction businessman, who acted as the representative of McLean Prperties.
The FBI said Ames was one of "a number" of undercover operatives who helped in the probe.
The charges stipulate that Ames Delivered $2,500 in cash to Harrison in November, 1978, after Harrison "suggested" that Ames make a political contribution to an unnamed BaltimoreCounty candidate. The money, according to the charges, was given to Harrison "in connection with a zoning matter."
Then in December 1979, Ames allegedly gave Harrison an additional $5,000 in cash which was supposed to be delivered to a Baltimore County zoning official, according to the indictment.
The U.S. Attorney's office in Baltimore declined to say whether the money Harrison allegedly received was ever delivered to a candidate or zoning employe. Officials also declined to specify which zoning cases were involved in the investigation.
The long list of Marylanders accused of political corruption went up one more notch Monday when Harford County Executive J. Thomas Barranger was indicted by a grand jury on extortion and perjury charges in connection with payments to his election campaign.
In just the last 10 years in Maryland politics two Baltimore area county executives have been convicted on political corruption charges after probes that also led to the resignation of then-vice president Spiro T. Agnew, a former Baltimore County executive who rose from that post to national office.
Political corruption in Maryland ha occasionally centered on zoning matters. In the late 1960s a number of prominent Prince George's County officials and developers were implicated in a zoning scandal.In the most celebrated case, prominent county developer Ralph Rocks, county commissioner Jessie Baggett and a zoning attorney were convicted of bribery and perjury charges.
Like Prince George's County in the late 1960s, Baltimore County currently is experiencing a boom in development, with speculators, land-use attorneys and developers vying for precious and potentially lucrative properties. This commercial competition has centered on zoning matters and zoning officials, as has the federal probe.
"It always seems," said County Solicitor Leonard Jacobson, referring to yesterday's indictment and county corruption in the past, "that we're at the center of the barrel."
Harrison could not be reached for comment yesterday. Thomas Harrison, his son and partner in his legal firm, said Harrison was served with the indictment while he was conducting a case in a Baltimore court.
Each of the perjury counts against Harrison carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine. The obstruction of justice charge carries a five-year prison term and/or a $5,000 fine. According to federal prosecutors Harrison is scheduled for arraignment within 10 days.