A former Maryland state senator indicted on public corruption charges will be permitted to remain in his position as the president and chief executive of the Injured Workers' Insurance Fund, the state agency he has led since leaving the legislature three years ago.
Members of the board that oversees the quasi-public insurance company unanimously agreed yesterday to support Thomas L. Bromwell, a day after a federal grand jury accused the Baltimore Democrat of using his influence when he was a lawmaker to benefit a prominent construction firm in exchange for concealed payments and other favors.
Daniel E. McKew, chairman of the board, which is appointed by the governor, praised Bromwell's stewardship of the insurance company, which has assets and reserves totaling $1.3 billion and is the largest carrier of workers' compensation insurance in Maryland. McKew said Bromwell had been instrumental in recent, unprecedented growth at the company. He added that "it wouldn't be fair" to remove Bromwell on the basis of the 30-count racketeering indictment.
"I don't know if anyone actually read the entire indictment," McKew said after the meeting. "What I know is we knew what we could do from a legal standpoint, and we knew how we felt about Senator Bromwell's performance at IWIF."
The board hired Bromwell for the position in 2002. Although the indictment alleges wrongdoing even after he took the job, the charges do not involve his work at the agency.
Bromwell receives a pay package potentially worth $250,000 a year in his position. The decision to continue paying his salary has substantial consequences for Bromwell, whose bank and investment accounts the government has moved to freeze, and perhaps on his ability to mount a defense.
Prosecutors are seeking the forfeiture of assets because, they allege, Bromwell improperly received nearly $193,000 from the firm Poole and Kent -- payments disguised as salary for his wife, Mary Pat, for a no-show job at a company Poole and Kent controlled -- as well as free or discounted construction services worth $85,000 at the Bromwells' Baltimore home.
Bromwell's attorneys maintain the couple's innocence. Lawyer Robert Schulman said Bromwell was "very pleased that the board has enough confidence in him to retain him as the CEO."
James Browning, executive director of the nonpartisan watchdog group Common Cause Maryland, said the decision underscores a culture of permissiveness in Annapolis, where he said Bromwell's alleged conduct is seen more as a "fraternity prank" than as a crime.
"Everyone is really closing ranks to protect Thomas Bromwell," said Browning, whom Bromwell once denounced on the Senate floor over comments that Bromwell said unfairly associated him with corporate excesses. "Given the contents of the indictment, it's really inappropriate for him to remain in his position."
The indictment announced Wednesday names Bromwell, 56, and his wife, along with W. David Stoffregen, a former Poole and Kent president and chief executive, in a six-year conspiracy ending in 2004.
Bromwell's ability to deliver favors to Poole and Kent was considered so valuable, it says, that Stoffregen persuaded him to abandon his announced plans to retire from the Senate in 2000. Bromwell remained in the legislature at Stoffregen's request and, in exchange, received the payments disguised as salary paid to his wife, it says.
Bromwell is accused of using his influence inside and outside government to help Poole and Kent win construction contracts, to resolve contractual disputes in the company's favor and to expedite payments so that Stoffregen could collect hefty bonuses.
As they are with the Bromwells, prosecutors are seeking to freeze accounts controlled by Stoffregen, who they say collected $1.7 million in salary and bonuses from Poole and Kent during the time covered by the indictment. They also seek to seize two vehicles he owns.
Stoffregen's attorney, Barry Levine, has not returned telephone calls seeking comment since the indictment was unsealed. Poole and Kent has said it forced Stoffregen out in March and is cooperating with the investigation.
Justice Department guidelines prevent prosecutors from freezing assets for the sole purpose of limiting a defendant's ability to retain a lawyer, but defense lawyers and prosecutors say the crippling effects of such orders can significantly strengthen the government's hand. "If it encompasses everything you own, it can have a dramatic impact on your ability to survive and to mount an effective defense," said Robert C. Bonsib, a defense lawyer not connected to the case.