The University of Maryland Medical System's general counsel has informed its board that the long-running federal investigation of a former state senator is focusing on allegations that he steered a contract to a favored builder during the construction of a $150 million hospital wing, members of the board said yesterday.
General Counsel Megan M. Arthur told the board that former Maryland Sen. Thomas Bromwell, a powerful Baltimore Democrat who has been the focus of a federal probe, urged the university system to switch contractors working on the massive Baltimore hospital project after the job had been awarded to another firm, according to five board members who attended the Sept. 14 briefing and agreed to be interviewed. Arthur declined comment.
Bromwell insisted that the contract go to Poole and Kent, Arthur told board members. The large commercial builder installed plumbing and ventilation systems in Bromwell's Baltimore County house and, according to records, had close ties to another firm that hired his wife.
"What we've been told is that [Bromwell] had recommended we use them and that he intervened on their behalf with respect to the contract," said John C. Erickson, chairman of the board of the University of Maryland Medical System.
Other board members interviewed this week said the general counsel described the pressure from Bromwell as being "extreme" and overt.
"We were told Sen. Bromwell put extraordinary pressure on them to hire Poole and Kent," said one board member, who spoke on the condition he not be named because the board briefing was intended to be confidential. "They scrapped the original contract and re-bid it essentially on his instructions."
Bromwell's lawyer declined to comment on whether Bromwell used his influence to help Poole and Kent win the hospital contract.
The attorney, Robert B. Schulman, said he expects the former senator to be indicted in the coming days. He said Bromwell was invited to testify in front of a grand jury by Sept. 21 but declined.
"There was no benefit to be gained," Schulman said. "If they're going to indict him, they're going to indict him no matter what Mr. Bromwell does."
A woman who answered the phone last night at the home of Adam E. Snavely, Poole and Kent's executive vice president, said he had no comment.
Bromwell had been in an unusually strong position to exert influence. He served as chairman of the Senate committee that oversaw all of the state's health policy and held a key vote on bond bills that distribute millions of dollars to the university medical system each year.
The project in question is a prime example: Records show the legislature directed roughly $90 million in taxpayer money to the construction of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Building, which opened in Baltimore in 2002 to house a cancer treatment center, adult and pediatric emergency departments and high-tech operating theaters.
A spokeswoman for the medical system said Monday she could not pinpoint the size of the contract that went to Poole and Kent, which worked as a mechanical subcontractor to Turner Construction Co., the prime contractor on the project. But Robert Pevenstein, another board member, confirmed that when the work was done, the firm had gone "significantly over" the original quoted price.
All board members who agreed to be interviewed said Arthur's briefing was clear on one point: that the university system was not a target of the federal probe. To the contrary, one member said, Arthur told the board that the system "was being viewed by investigators as a victim in this, not part of the crime."
Board members appeared to have had mixed reactions to Arthur's allegations that officials working within the university system may have caved to pressure from Bromwell when overseeing the project.
Erickson said in an interview yesterday that he "didn't see anything that was inappropriate" about the decision to reopen the contract. The cost overruns, in his view, were eventually justified by Poole and Kent because the project was so complicated.
Pevenstein, however, said he was disturbed by the notion that a politician could intervene in such a manner. Though he could not directly address the specifics of Bromwell's involvement, citing the board's confidentiality rules, Pevenstein summed up his feelings by saying, "I would be concerned if anyone exerted influence on a process that resulted in higher costs."