Sylvania W. Woods Jr., who resigned this week as a member of the Maryland House of Delegates from Prince George's County, acknowledged yesterday that he is the focus of a criminal investigation involving his cellular telephone business, but said his surprise resignation was unrelated to the probe.
In a brief interview at his home, Woods, who was chairman of the Prince George's House delegation, said he learned about a week ago that Maryland authorities had begun investigating him. He said the probe relates to his sale of cellular telephones for Bell Atlantic Mobile Systems.
Several legislators said this week that they had been interviewed by state investigators and asked whether they had bought cellular telephones from Woods, who is a Bell Atlantic sales agent.
Sen. Arthur Dorman (D-Prince George's) said yesterday that investigators told him they had discovered an order form bearing his name. Dorman and other legislators said they did not buy telephones from Woods.
In Annapolis yesterday, the chief of the General Assembly's accounting office, Mary Atwell, said she had received bills in recent months for $600 worth of Bell Atlantic mobile telephones that had not been ordered. Atwell said the bills were turned over to the Maryland State Prosecutor's Office, the agency that Woods said is conducting the investigation.
State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli, whose office investigates alleged wrongdoing by public officials, said he would neither "confirm nor deny" that Woods is the focus of a criminal probe.
Woods, 37, who was sworn in less than three weeks ago to a fourth four-year term, said he decided to quit the assembly to pursue other interests, including the possible opening of a Landover nightclub.
He declined to discuss the investigation. "In a little while, you'll all know what it's about," he said, without elaborating.
Besides his acknowledged legal difficulty, Woods also has encountered financial problems as a cellular telephone sales agent, according to Circuit Court records in Prince George's.
More than half of his $20,000 salary as a state delegate last year was garnished by a bank after he allegedly failed to make payments on a $25,000 loan he obtained in May 1989 for his business, Mobile Cellular Service. In an unrelated case, Woods was sued in 1987 for failing to make payments on a $16,394 car loan. Court records show he also lost a Landover condominium in 1989 after he and his mother defaulted on a $53,900 mortgage.
In the case of the $25,000 business loan, the Jefferson Bank & Trust Co. said in court documents that Woods agreed to pay back the money in six installments of $4,333.63, from June to November 1989. After the bank alleged that Woods had defaulted, a judge ordered him to pay more than $30,000 in principal, interest, penalties and attorneys fees.
After Woods failed to pay, the bank obtained a garnishment order and delivered it to his employer, the state government.
The state gave the bank $11,175 of Woods's salary from February to October last year, according to monthly garnishment reports filed with the Circuit Court. The last report, for October, lists $23,266 outstanding. An attorney for the bank said yesterday, "It's in the collection process."
Court records also show that Woods and his mother, Geneva H. Woods, bought a condominium at 7312 Barlowe Rd. in Landover in 1985. A mortgage company later foreclosed on the property, saying only $599 of the loan had been repaid. The condominium was sold at an auction in May 1989.
In another case, Woods bought a year-old Chevrolet Corvette in 1985, with a $16,394 loan from the General Motors Acceptance Corp. The lender sued Woods for $10,138 in November 1987, alleging that he had stopped making payments. The lawsuit was dropped a month later.
Brian Wood, a spokesman for Bell Atlantic in New Jersey, said Woods receives commissions on sales of the company's cellular telephones. He declined to comment on the Maryland investigation.
Woods submitted his resignation Tuesday to House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. (D-Kent). He said he has been negotiating to buy a Landover nightclub called Utopia, which closed recently. Woods also said that for several weeks he has been under consideration for a job in the private sector. He declined to describe the job or identify his prospective employer.
The Prince George's Democratic Central Committee is expected to meet soon to select a nominee to succeed Woods, although no date for the meeting has been set. The committee's choice must be approved by Gov. William Donald Schaefer. Among the most prominently mentioned candidates is Ricardo Mitchell, who was Woods's campaign manager.Staff writer Richard Tapscott contributed to this report.