Anthony J. Cicoria, whose old-style brand of shoe-leather politics helped him win a Democratic primary race last month for the Prince George's County Council seat he has held since 1982, confronts another, more threatening challenge this morning when he goes on trial in Circuit Court, charged with siphoning $64,324 from his campaign fund.
Cicoria, 50, faces token Republican opposition in his inner Beltway district after defeating three Democratic rivals Sept. 11. He is expected to spend most of the remaining five weeks before November's general election in an Upper Marlboro courtroom, where Maryland prosecutors will outline a series of felony theft and tax evasion charges against him and his wife.
Acquittal on the five counts against him would leave Cicoria free to start a third term on the council in January, if he is elected next month. But even if he is found guilty, Cicoria -- who swore off future public office after being indicted -- could still take his seat in January and serve while appealing his conviction, the state Attorney General's Office said.
A political maverick, Cicoria is despised by the county's Democratic power structure, yet adored by the senior citizens and Italian Americans who make up the heart of his support. He faces three counts of evading state income taxes and one count each of felony theft and conspiracy. His wife and campaign chairman, Catherine, 52, faces the same charges, and seven counts of perjury.
The most serious charge, theft, is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Their trial, expected to last three weeks, begins with jury selection today. Judge Robert C. Nalley of Charles County will preside at the trial to spare local judges the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Cicoria, a former trophy shop owner whose council district stretches from Takoma Park to University Park to Colmar Manor, watched his popularity soar after he emerged in the late 1970s as a vocal critic of the county's Democratic establishment. As a council member, he frequently has skipped meetings, but kept a high profile at community gatherings.
County Executive Parris N. Glendening and others in the local party elite have criticized Cicoria for what they view as his tangled business dealings, and made it clear they consider him an embarrassment. Cicoria, though, has built a rapport with constituents by mailing birthday cards, answering virtually every letter and telephone call and leaving home late at night on an emergency errand for an elderly voter.
In an indictment last November, he was charged with illegally diverting the $62,324 in campaign money to his personal use from 1984 to 1989, and failing to pay state income taxes on the money. Catherine Cicoria, who is accused of conspiring in the thefts, also is charged with perjury for allegedly signing fraudulent campaign finance reports.
Cicoria allegedly used a substantial amount of the money to make mortgage payments on a building he owns and uses as a district council office, according to a source familiar with the case. Another source said evidence in the trial would not point to lavish spending by Cicoria and his wife.
Cicoria's repeated changes of lawyers in recent months could hamper his defense, said one source familiar with the case.
His first lawyer was Arnold Weiner, of Baltimore. His wife was represented by Alan Goldstein, of Greenbelt.
Both lawyers withdrew from the case in June. Weiner was replaced by Michael Montemarano, of Baltimore. Joseph Touhy, of Glen Burnie, became Catherine Cicoria's attorney. Last week, Montemarano withdrew as Anthony Cicoria's lawyer and joined Touhy as co-counsel for Catherine. Her husband's defense is now being handled by Washington lawyer Robert Mance, who entered the case two weeks ago. He is a partner of defense lawyer R. Kenneth Mundy, who represented Mayor Marion Barry in his drug and perjury trial earlier this year.
The lawyers either declined to discuss the case or could not be reached for comment. Cicoria also could not be reached for comment.
The source said the couple's current lawyers are at a disadvantage, having had a relatively short time to study the reams of campaign records and financial documents the prosecution will rely on in presenting its case.