A Baltimore janitorial firm landed $2.6 million state contract last year [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Ronald Schreiber, a close friend and lawyer for the company's president, asked Maryland's budget secretary to break up a bureaucratic logjam that had jeopardized the award.
A strip mining concern received a $290,000 contract from Maryland's natural resources agency in 1975 after Frank Harris, a close friend of the firm's president, strongly recommended the contractor's proposal to the state agency's secretary.
Officially, Schreiber and Harris are lobbyists for Maryland Gov.Marvin Mandel, members of his personal staff who are each paid about $32,000 a year to help the governor get his way in the state legislature.
But their efforts on behalf of the janitorial firm and the strip mining concern - incidents described by former state Budget Secretary R. Kenneth Barnes and Natural Resources Secretary James B. Coulter, respectively - fall outside their formal duties. Some Mandel aides jokingly refer to these extra-curricular activities of Schreiber and Harris as "freelancing."
As gubernatorial political operatives chiefly concerned with shooting legislator's egos, Harris, a burly ex-locomotive engineer, and Schreiber, a savvy Baltimore lawyer, have generally remained behind the scenes during Mandel's eight years in office and are little known outside the State house lobbies.
However, since Mandel was convicted of political corruption charges Aug. 23, the status of Harris and Schreiber has taken on new importance. Barely a day goes by when Acting Gov. Blair Lee III isn't questioned by reporters about their futures.
Lee's decision on Harris and Schreiber will be carefully weighed for its political implications. While their associations with private business interests do not appear to be illegal, they have raised questions about possible conflicts of interest.
Lee, a candidate in next year's race for governor, said after a press conference in Annapolis yesterday that if he is elected, he will require his staff members to divorce themselves of all outside activities to avoid conflicts of interest.
"I really am going to tighten up quite drastically on that whole thing," he said.
However, Lee gave no indication of whether he would keep Harris and Schreiber on the gubernatorial staff.
The practice of "freelancing" was never really discouraged in Mandel's inner office, according to sources who have worked there. But it was important that the activities didn't become too obvious or embarrass the administration.
The most publicized "freelance" activity by a Mandel staff member involved Martin E. Underwood, an executive aide to the governor who had a contract with Zollman Engineering - a firm then owned by three close friends of Mandel who were later convicted along with the governor. Zollman received millions of dollars in Maryland contracts at the time Underwood was hired by the firm to seek out-of-state business.
In addition to the incidents involving the Baltimore janitorial firm, Associated Building Services, and the strip mining concern. Buffalo Coal Company, there have been other recently discovered examples of outside activity by Harris and Schreiber:
Harris works as a part-time real estate salesman for a broker in Cecil County who has received about $14,000 in state funds for leasing office space to the state since Harris became associated with the broker's firm in 1973, according to state records.
About 2 2/2 years after Harris became licensed as a salesman for broker, William F. Burkley, the state agreed to more than double the price it was paying per square foot for office space owned by Burkley in downtown Eklton. Since Harris joined his firm, Burkley has also earned about $3,500 from the state for appraising land the state was considering buying.
Burkley said in an interview that he pays Harris commissions for real estate sales, but he would not disclose how much Harris has earned. Harris also refused to disclose his earnings and said he has had "nothing to do" with the leasing and appraisal work Burkley has received from the state.
Schreiber called a high-ranking state purchasing official earlier this month to determine whether the state had any interest - he was told it did not - in leasing or buying a vacant building in downtown Baltimore that was scheduled to go on sale at a public auction later that day, according to purchasing officials.
Among the bidders at the auction was Caswell J. Caplan, a longtime law client of Schreiber. Caplan is also Baltimore real estate investor whose firm lists Schreiber as its attorney. Schreiber, who reportedly knew in advance that the state had no interest in taking over the structure, appeared at the auction, according to a newspaper account, and watched Caplan lose the building to a higher bidder.
The state had recently bought another old building within the same neighborhood to convert into a prision, paying the politically influential owner $1 million more than he originally spent for the structure a short time before.
Schreiber asked General Services Secretary J. Max Millstone in late 1975, according to Millstone, to set up an appointment for Schreiber's legal client and close friend, Paul Reamer, who was then president of the Baltimore janitorial firm of Associated Building Services, Inc. As Millstone now recalls the conversation, Schreiber asked him to listen to Reamer's proposal to rewrite specifications for janitorial contracts negotiated by the state.
Millstone said he met Reamer and introduced him to the state official in charge of writing specifications for janitorial contracts. Reamer's proposal was ultimately rejected, said Millstone, who pointed out that allowing a contractor to write specifications gives him a competitive advantage because he can skew the contract requirements to the strengths of his business operation.
It was also on behalf of Reamer's firm that Schreiber spoke to former Budget Secretary Barnes last year - a discussion that prompted Barnes to overrule his subordinates and award a contested $2.6 million state contract to Associated Building Services.
Barnes recalled that he quickly commissioned his deputy to "look into the matter" after Schreiber called and demanded to know why budget officials were stalling the award of the contract to Associated Building to clean the State's Rosewood Center for the retarded.
Reamer's firm had submitted the lowest bid for the job, but budget analysts had recommended rebidding the contract because they were not satisfied with the contract's specifications or with held the Rosewood contract for the previous four years, had offered to do the job.
Rosewood officials asked that the job be awarded to the other firm, Abacus Corporation, despite its slightly higher bid. While Abacus had performed "in a most satisfactory manner" in the previous four years, said the center's assistant superintendent in a May, 1976, letter, the Associated firm had held an earlier contract at Rosewood under a different corporate name and its performance was "most unsatisfactory."
By the end of last year, Barnes decided to award the contract to Associated Building. Many of the problems initially cited by his subordinates were ironed out, he said, and the analysts changed their position. "We felt since they were low bidder, there was no reason not to give it to them," he said.
Associated Building Services, state records show, has its origins in a firm incorporated in 1960 by Schreiber, Reamer and Reamer's wife, Linda. All three were listed as directors of the firm, then called American Janitorial Services.
Paul Reamer, the firm's president, changed its name in 1969 to Associated Building Services. A year later, the firm was acquired by ARA Services, Inc. a huge Philadelphia-based service management concern. Schreiber's name does not appear again after the 1960 filing, but his law firm handled corporate work for the Associated Building company.
Paul Reamer, who stayed on as president of Associated Building until last April, said in a short interview that Schreiber as "a close friend" and said the gubernatorial aide "has done a lot of personal legal work for me."
Schreiber would not answer questions about his activities, saying he did not approve of a "technique" used by a Washington Post reporter in collecting information for this story. In trying to determine Schreiber's affiliation with a Baltimore law firm, the reporter told a secretary that Schreiber had said he could be reached at the law firm although Schreiber had not done so.
Frank Harris' reported involvement in the $290,000 contract to Buffalo Coal Company came after the West Virginia-based strip mining concern first proposed an experimental method of stopping acidic materials from seeping out of abandoned coals mines in Western Maryland and polluting streams in the area.
Natural Resources Secretary Coulter said Harris approached him about three years ago and urged him to approve the proposal, which had been pending since the early 1970s. In May, 1975, Coulter's agency awarded the contract to Buffalo Coal without competitive bidding.
Harris said in an interview that he cannot recall discussing the project with Coulter. If he did recommend the proosal, he said, "It was because of my love for the countryside. Those guys (Buffalo Coal) never gave me a 5 cent piece for anything."
Harris said the company's president, Carl Del Signore, has been his close friend for 20 years and has hosted Harris at his condominum on Deep Creek Lake in western Maryland. Del Signore, who serves as a member of Coulter's advisory board, could not be reached for commented.
In a general discussion of "freelancing" in the governor's office, Harris acknowledged that he has occasionally helped private interests if he feels their cause is just. He refers to himself as "just an old-line, ward-heeling politician.
"That's my job," Harris said. "All I'm interested in is getting some votes when election day comes along."
Although they are full time aides to the governor, Schreiber and Harris essentially earn their keep during the legislature's annual 90-day session when they help form a team of Mandel lobbyists known as "the roadrunners" and "the corporation" because of their legendary arrangements for vote trading.
Harris, the son of a dairy farmer accentuates his rural Cecil County background with countrified slang and a Raggedy-Andy haircut. Schreiber, a Dartmouth graduate and Baltimore Lawyer, is trim and nattily attired and, with his pipe in hand, often mistaken for a brother of his boss, Mandel.
When the legislature is not in session, Harris has functioned almost as a retainer to Mandel, performing whatever odd jobs the governor needs done. His desk is in the interoom to the governor's private office, making him physically the closest of the governor's aides.
Schreiber is rarely seen in Annapolis during the legislative off-season. One of his associates said the Schreiber's chief function after the session is shepherding legislators into bill signings and making sure they get the official pens and pictures in the mail.
"They have their own constituency" among the state's legislators, explained Alan Wilner, Mandel's former chief legislative officer, who was recently appointed to Maryland's Court of Special Appeals. "If a legislator wants a racetrack pass for a vote, Ronnie or Frank will make sure he gets one. Every governor needs a Ronnie and a Frank to make democracy work."
Schreiber and Harris have both worked for Mandel since he became governor in 1969. Harris, a former state delegate from Cecil County, traces his relationship with Mandel back to their days together as suitemates when both served in the House of Delegates. Mandel associates say the governor has a brotherly affection for Harris and relies on him for personal favors, such as the $10,000 Mandel borrowed from Harris to help pay for Mandel's honeymoon trip to Europe with his second wife, Jeanne.