Jack Luskin, the owner of an appliance chain that agreed this month to a $290,000 out-of-court settlement of a consumer protection suit, told state prosecutors in June that Maryland Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs prosecuted his company after Luskin refused to make an illegal contribution to Sachs' first campaign for attorney general seven years ago, according to a published report.
The allegations, included in a sworn, pretrial deposition Luskin made before the Howard County Circuit Court, came to light yesterday in a published account in The Baltimore News American. The depositions were not made part of the public record because the case was settled before it came to trial.
Sachs vigorously denied Luskin's allegations yesterday, calling them "ugly" and "sleazy."
The four-year-old consumer protection suit, settled Oct. 3, charged that the Howard-based Luskin's chain violated the Maryland Consumer Protection Act and the state's False Advertising Act by selling used items as new and indulging in bait-and-switch practices by advertising items that were not available for sale.
Luskin's officials denied the charges but agreed to sign the consent decree, which requires the 18-store chain to pay $40,000 of the attorney general's prosecution costs and $250,000 into a Consumer Protection Education Fund operated by Sachs' office.
In the depositions quoted in the published report, Luskin said that Sachs and his campaign's finance chairman Calman Zamoiski Jr. approached him in 1978 and requested a campaign contribution in excess of the $1,000 maximum contribution allowed by state law.
"They reacted rather unfavorably and suggested that that was easy to overcome," Luskin is quoted as saying. "I could simply create other financial commitments in the name of some of our executives, perhaps, and in the names of my children and my wife to overcome that. I indicated I would not be party to such a thing."
Luskin said that Zamoiski then suggested that Luskin might like "to have a friend in the attorney general's office."
Luskin's allegations are false, said Sachs, who acknowledged that he had asked the chain store owner for a contribution. "Nobody in my presence has ever suggested an illegal campaign contribution or anything of the kind. It is just absolute fabrication." Sachs said that Luskin made a $500 contribution to his campaign that year.
Sachs said that Luskin's charges were "an attempt on Luskin's part to extort a favorable settlement, to capitalize on my perceived vulnerability as a candidate for governor." Sachs has announced his plans to seek the governor's seat next year.
Luskin, a Baltimore resident, was out of the country yesterday and could not be reached for comment. His attorney, Arnold Weiner, said through a spokesman that by signing the consent decree, Luskin had agreed to let his complaints about Sachs' handling of his case drop.
"Both of the parties agreed to settle this case without any resolution of their conflicting charges," Weiner said. "Both parties are obviously satisfied with the settlement, and as far as I am concerned, the matter is nothing more than history."