With his gruff manner and expensive suits, George J. Santoni presented himself as a new kind of "East Bawlmer" politician, a reformer of sorts.
It wasn't that he didn't believe in the time-honored tradition of political payoffs, the Maryland legislator declared in one taped conversation played in court here. His peculiarity was that he thought they should be passed around, shared with friends and associates.
The old pols could never understand this, he complained. "Normally, the average guy that gets elected in our district," Santoni said in the taped conversation, "he wants it all for himself; he don't want to give nothing to nobody.
"It's rare that they get a bird that comes down the trail and says look, 'we're all gonna share. We're all gonna eat out of the same trough. I'm gonna fill the trough. We're all gonna eat equally.' They don't get that too much. And when you get that you get tremendous cooperation."
This is hardly the stuff of Jefferson, or Madison. But then they never worked an election in the ethnic neighborhoods of East Baltimore. Santoni had. He worked them hard and understood the process.He though of himself as up-and-coming, a 38-year-old pol on the rise, destined to become a power in city and state politics for years to come.
But, like so many other Maryland politicians in recent years, Santoni's political career ended - at least temporarily - in a courtroom last week. He and a sidekick were convicted of extortion and Santoni was forced to leave his seat in the Maryland House of Delegates.
Stantonis nine-day trial here provided an intriguing glimpse of the underbelly of politics and the motives it's based on.It was vintage Maryland politics, Baltimore-style.
Nothing summed it up better than a tape recording of a conversation Santoni had with an undercover FBI agent in which the state legislator told of a discussion he had had with Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaeler.
"I says this to the mayor, 'You can question my work, you can question my honesty, and you can question my integrity. But don't you ever question my loyalty to you.' He (the mayor) says, 'I like that, I like that' . . . He says, "You know I want to be governor one of these days."
As Maryland political corruption trials go, Santoni's was pretty much small potatoes. He was charged with taking $14,600 from a dummy contracting firm the FBI set up as a front in exchange for using his influence to get city contracts.
The names of more than a half-dozen bigger political fish floated about the courtroom, and FBI agent Dudley Hodgson said at one point that Santoni and codefendant John Jake Konstantine Jakubik were "just a small part of the picture."
But the fascinating thing about the case was its inside look at a wheeler-dealer politician on the make, and the new forms political graft can take. Most of this was provided by a series of tapes that undercover FBI agents made of conversions with Santoni.
Two extraordinary schemes, for instance, were presented for luring non-bid city contracts, one for emergency painting contracts, the other for emergency demolition contracts. Both depended on creating an emergency, and being at the right spot at the right time.
Testimony indicated that city officials were suspected of setting fires and vandalizing schools to create work and contracts for their freinds in exchange for payoffs.
The painting emergencies were created by a crew of men breaking into schools late at night and painting obscene words on classroom walls. "I send guys in there, I send guys in there with spray bombs, you know, to spray the walls," said Jakubik, a city school maintenance foreman, in one tape the court heard.
Since no one wanted small school children to read the obscenities, the upshot was the city would have to award an emergency contract to paint over the words. This had to be done fast, without allowing time for bids.
The demolition scheme depended on Santoni's friendship with his neighbor, (Marco L. Buddy) Palughi, a city public works division chief, and Ottavio F. Grande, the city official who selected contractors for nonbid emergency demolition work.
Palughi would tip off Santoni about late night fires. Santoni said on one tape, so he could be on the scene to arrange to have a contractor demolish the building. There was some feeling that city officials actually set the fires, Santoni told an FBI agent posing as a contractor on one tape. "Seriously, they were accusing them of setting the fires, I said they were accused of it. I didn't say they actually did it though.
"I'm not saying I know it for a fact, but I'm telling you that's what they do," he added later. "You get ther 2, 3, 4 o'clock in the morning. OK? the fire is late. It's always late."
The demolition work is awarded on the spot, he said. "Take the building down . . . You're there next morning tearing it down and it's down before anything happends, before anyone knows."
The east of characters in the case reads like something out of a bad, late night detective movie. First, there were the two undercover FBI agents, Hodgson, who operated under the alias of Douglas Dennett Hollier, and Ron Miller, who took the alias Ron Marco because it sounded Italian. They set up a dummy corporation, the Municipal Chemical Co., in February, 1975, for the purpose of being extorted.
They enlisted the aid of Salvatore (Sal) Pasquate Spinnato, a short, snappily dressed man who was a boyhood friend of Santoni, and set out to get city contracts.
They made contact with Santoni and Jakubik, a small-time political hanger-on and city functionary. Over a period of months the agents taped a series of conversations with the pair and paid Santoni a total of $14,600 to help them get city contracts, according to court testimony.
When Spinnato slipped him a white envelope containing one payoff, Santoni said, "I love Sal and his presents. It's been going the other way for so long and now it's coming this way, I love it."
Baltimore's fabled political organization is really a network of interlocking allegiances, in which hundreds of lesser figures - like Jakubik - affiliate themselves with bosslets like Santoni, who in turn attach themselves to one of the city's major bosses.
Jakubik, on the tapes, tells how he left the political organization headed by former State Sen. Joseph Staszak (D-Baltimore) to join with Santoni. "I've tied my future to this man . . . I says this guy is a winner if I've ever laid eyes on one," said Jakubik."I left the organization I was with fir 24 years . . . I was real deep in it. But unfortunately I wasn't getting proper compensation."
Santoni had bigger ambitions. "If I was in it for like a year, or two years, it would be different," he said on the tapes. "But I'm in it for life . . . I'm going to be a state senator," and ultimately, he adds, "in with" the next governor of Maryland.
At the trial, Jakubik claimed he never got a dime from Santoni and had only linked up with him to help win political office. "It was so I could have a chance once in my life, in the twilight of my life, to become somebody, to become somthing in the community."
He offered helpful advice on how to deal with city building inspectors. "You tell me and we send 'em to lunch, we'll get 'em a broad, we'll do something. We take care of them," he said at one point on the tapes.
His favorite inspector was "a very, a very good man . . . he'll duck away from the job as much as possible," he advised.
Santoni told the undercover agents that his linkup with Jakubik was for mutual profit. "You see, Jake has never had a delegate that can go in and put the pressure on 'em. Now I can go in and tell them that I'd like them to talk to you."
"It's one hand you know that wipes the other," he said at another point on the tapes."You know like Jake said, he was in with some guys that always took the big bite and gave him nothing. Now he's getting his like everyone does. And everybody's happy."
Santoni was a newcomer on the political scene. He was elected in 1974 over the opposition of the Democratic Party's organization . . . huge bear of a man, his most publicized action in this year's legislative session was to introduce a resolution praising fellow Italian-American Frank Rizzo, the Philadelphia mayor.
Santoni lost his House of Delegates seat and his $12,500 annual salary automatically upon conviction Thursday.
In his closing argument, Gerard P. Martin, and assistant U.S. district attorney, called the FBI investigation "a brilliant law enforcement maneuver.
"This is a unique opportunity to tell other public officials that the next time they hold their hand out. Special Agent Hodgson may be on the other end," he said.