ANNAPOLIS, AUG. 29 -- William J. Steiner Jr., a darkhorse Republican candidate for Anne Arundel County executive, was convicted today on two felony counts of receiving stolen goods.
After a 2 1/2-hour court trial, District Judge Donald W. Lowman found Steiner guilty of possessing three shotguns valued at $2,100 that were stolen from a Queen Anne's County man in 1983 and appliances worth $700 that were taken from a Howard County distributor last fall.
Police discovered the items during searches of the 42-year-old Glen Burnie restaurant owner's home and business in November. Steiner, who testified today as the only defense witness, maintained that he did not know the property was stolen and offered detailed accounts of how he acquired it.
However, Lowman said he did not find the candidate's explanations credible.
"It doesn't wash," the judge said of Steiner's statement that two customers had left the appliances at his restaurant, McDoogal's Seafood and Ribs, the night before the police raid while Steiner was still contemplating buying them.
Steiner faces the possibility of a maximum 30 years in prison and a $2,000 fine when he is sentenced. The sentencing date has not yet been set.
Under Maryland law, citizens convicted of one felony automatically lose their right to vote and with it their eligibility to hold public office until they have completed probation. Those convicted of two felonies are permanently disqualified from the voter rolls unless they receive a gubernatorial pardon.
But despite today's court action, county elections officials said Steiner's name will appear on the Sept. 11 primary ballot, which has already been printed, and that they probably will be required to count any votes he receives because Steiner's convictions will not become final until sentencing.
Judge Lowman said he does not plan to sentence Steiner until after court officials prepare a report on Steiner's background, a process that usually takes four to six weeks. If Steiner appeals the verdict, as he indicated he probably will, his sentencing could be delayed further.
Responding to the judge's action today, Steiner said he thinks that he was unfairly targeted for prosecution because he has campaigned on a platform of legalizing slot machines. "They know that if I were successful, it would cut into the state's lottery money," he said. He refused to say why he thought police raided his properties in November even though he did not declare his candidacy until July.
Although his convictions still could be overturned on appeal, Steiner said today's action left little doubt that "we're out of the race." Even before reports of his legal difficulties surfaced last month, political observers had given him little chance of defeating his sole primary opponent, former House of Delegates minority leader Robert R. Neall. Steiner, a political novice, has raised $315 for his campaign compared with Neall's $280,000.
Appearing before the judge today, Steiner's attorney, Alvin Sellman, admitted the case against his client looked bad. But he said that because Steiner had no prior criminal record and police did not find any items detailed in their 21-page search warrant, Lowman should give Steiner the benefit of the doubt.
The judge was unswayed, however. Mulling Steiner's story of how he had purchased four shotguns -- including the three stolen ones -- for a total of $750 in the parking lot of a sporting goods store from two men who were trying to sell the weapons to the store's manager, Lowman said, "I think he knew or should have known these things were hot."