Prosecutors dropped two of seven criminal charges yesterday against Prince George's County Council member Anthony J. Cicoria, telling a judge that Cicoria cannot be held legally responsible for falsified campaign finance reports, even if he signed them.
Cicoria, a second-term Democrat accused of siphoning $64,324 from his campaign fund in the 1980s for personal use, still is charged with three counts of evading state income taxes and one count each of felony theft and conspiracy.
But the Maryland State Prosecutor's Office told the judge in Cicoria's case that the Court of Special Appeals, in an unrelated matter, ruled two weeks ago that only the chairman and treasurer of a campaign can be held culpable for falsified finance reports. As a result, the state said it has decided not to prosecute Cicoria on two counts of perjury.
The perjury charges stemmed from Cicoria's alleged signing of falsified campaign finance reports in October 1984 and November 1988.
His wife and campaign chairman, Catherine, allegedly signed one of those two reports, as well as six others. She faces the same theft, conspiracy and tax charges as her husband, in addition to seven counts of perjury.
The theft and conspiracy charges each are punishable by up to 15 years in prison, and each tax-evasion and perjury count carries a possible 10-year term. The couple's trial, which is expected to last three weeks, was postponed yesterday until Oct. 1. It had been scheduled to start July 9.
Cicoria, 49, declined to comment on his case after yesterday's hearing before Circuit Court Judge Robert C. Nalley of Charles County, who will preside at the Prince George's trial to spare local judges an appearance of a conflict of interest. Catherine Cicoria, 52, also declined to comment.
Cicoria said, however, that he is "seriously considering" a bid for a third term on the council, despite his legal problems.
In a news release last month, Cicoria declared his political career at an end, saying he would not seek reelection to the council or to "any other public office in the future." But he said yesterday that many constituents in his inner Beltway district, which stretches from Takoma Park to University Park to Colmar Manor, have urged him to run again, and that he will decide within two weeks whether to enter the Sept. 11 Democratic primary.
Takoma Park Mayor Steven Del Giudice, one of two declared Democratic candidates for Cicoria's seat, said Cicoria had overestimated himself.
"There are folks in the district who remain loyal to him, but I don't think he enjoys the kind of support he once did," Del Giudice said.
The State Prosecutor's Office, which investigates charges of criminal misconduct involving public officials, obtained a 13-count indictment of Cicoria and his wife last Nov. 21. The couple allegedly stole the $64,324 in campaign contributions over a five-year period beginning in 1984.
Scott Nevin, one of two prosecutors assigned to the case, said the decision to drop the perjury counts resulted from an appellate ruling in the case of Nathaniel T. Oaks, a state legislator from Baltimore.
Oaks was convicted last fall of perjury and other offenses related to the theft of $10,000 in campaign funds, but the Court of Special Appeals overturned the perjury conviction. Because Maryland law requires only the campaign chairman and treasurer to sign finance reports, the court ruled, a candidate cannot be held legally responsible if the documents are falsified.
Nevin said that although Cicoria signed his campaign's finance reports in October 1984 and November 1988, he was not obligated to do so.