It just was not fair, Donald E. Webster had told his friends during the past few months. Somehow, he had been made a scapegoat in each scandal that had crossed Maryland's political landscape - from the revelations about the financial manipulations of the Pallottine Fathers religious order to the corrupt activities of suspended Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel.
In Webster's mind, he was only the bookkeeper for men richer and far more powerful than he. Yet it was his name in the newspaper, his CPA firm that was losing business and his future that was threatened by a grand jury probe and an inquiry by a professional board.
Last week, Webster told his lawyer he was going to Ocean City to "get away" for a few days. Friday evening, according to Ocean City authorities, Webster committed suicide in his 20th floor luxury condominium apartment by shooting himself in the head.
"The investigations have taken their toll," his attorney, Donald E. Sharp, said yesterday. "Just the constant pressure of it."
The body of the baldish, 48-year-old accountant was found Friday evening on the floor, next to a chair and coffee table, by his nephew, C. Dennis Webster, and the resident manager of the Golden Sands condominium, where many of the powerful men Webster sought to befriend also had oceanfront condominiums.
"Several notes were found in the apartment," an Ocean City police spokesman said yesterday. But he would not reveal to whom these were addressed or what they said.
Officials would not specuate on Webster's specific motives for the suicide and friends and members of the family would not dicuss any other possible personal misfortunes that might have depressed him recently, except for his general belief that he had been "crucified" in the press, as one acquaintance put it.
Webster was deeply involved in at least three investigations in his role as accountant and adviser to the Pallottines, whose finances were publicly questuined. One investigation, conducted by the state board that regulates CPAs in the Maryland, could have resulted in the revocation of Webster's License.
The agency was investigating whether Webster had allowed himself to become too close to the religious order by intertwining his business interests with those of the Pallottines, and thus had lost the independence that an auditor is supposed to have.
Another investigation could have led to a criminal indictment. The Maryland attorney general's office has been conducting a full-scale grand jury investigation of the Pallottines after newspaper revelations and an audit showing that the religious order diverted and invested for its own benefit millions of dollars collected for charity. Some of the money also was used for a loan to Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel.
The U.S. Internal Revenue Service INtelligence division was also investigating Webster, according to documents filed in Maryland's Court of Appeals. Those documents and even more damaging publicity about Webster had recently been in the newspapers as a result of his lawyers' foreceful efforts to look subpoema in connection with the attorney general's probe.
In addition, Webster was a major witness in the trial of Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel and his codefendants, W. Dale Hess, Harry W. Rodgers III, William A. Rodgers, Irvin Kovens and Ernest N. Cory Jr.
In that trial, Webster was potrayed as a trusted intermediary for those powerful men, someone who could arrange a loan, investment or other deal quickly and efficiently.
It was Webster, according to testimony, who met with Mandel. Father Guido Carcich, head of the Pallottines, and Hess and others at a crab feast at Webster's suburban Baltimore home in 1974 and helped arrange a $42,000 loan from Pallottine funds to help Mandel finance his divorce. He also helped cover it up through the use of a middleman. Baltimore auto dealer William May.
As little as four years ago, it had all been so different. Marvin Mandel had just been re-elected as Maryland's governor by an overwhelming majority, with Donald E. Webster as his campaign treasurer.
At that time, Webster seemed to have clients everwhere.His business had grown over the years from a oneman firm to a group of 15 or more CPAs. Donald Webster & Co. occupied half of the 10th floor in a major building in downtown Baltimore.
He spent much of his time among heady company in Annapolis and Baltimore, hobnobbing with Mandel and the powerful men surrounding him.
Some observers say that he was never really one of this crowd, that he followed orders instead of making decisions. But he was still privy to many of their secrets, still a facilitater who had a hand in working out many of theri deals.
Then the story about the financial dealings of the Pallottines began to come out in 1974, and everything else seemed to crumble with it. Worst of all, Donald Webster felt he was sometimes left to shoulder the blame for the improprieties of the huge Catholic charitable order.
Loan after peculiar loan had been made by the Pallottines - to Mandel. to a Harford County firm that contracted to build portable classrooms for the state - a firm run by Webster's nephew, C. Dennis Webster.
"Being a religious commumity, we do not posses the expertise and competence necessary in investment planning," said Father Dominick T. Graziadio, a spokesman for the Pallottine order at the time.
There fore, Graziadio explained, they depended on the professional advice of men like Donald Webster and his nephew. "Over the years, a working relationship of personal trust and confidence" develped between the Pallottines and the Websters.
". . . These loans that had been called into questions were all made at the behest of Mr. C. Dennis Webster and on the investment counsel of Mr. Donald E. Webster." Father Craziadio at a December, 1975, press conference held to explain the unusual financial dealings of the order.
With that press conference, everything slowly began to fall apart for Donald E. Webster. The Pallottines closed their account with his firm, and pressured other clients, such as the firm that did the missionary order's mailings, to take their business elsewhere, a partner of Webster recalled yesterday.
"We lost a couple of accounts because of Pallottine pressure," Joseph A. Tarr said. The total loss to the accounting firm, was about 10 per cent of the business," Tarr recalled. However, he added, "this was not a disaster."
That was only the beginning. Then came the subpoenas the days spent with lawyers and later days spent in courtrooms testifying about the deals he had helped arrange for Marvin Mandel.
"It all took its toll on him and his family," his attorney, Donald Sharp, said yesterday. "There were times when he was very upset with the bad publicity, never having an opportunity to defend himself. He was never charged, yet they was crucified in the press."
Webster himself had expressed this view to a reporter after Graziadio's press conference. He agreed to an appointment to meet a reporter at a location between Baltimore and Washington to give his side of the story but canceled at the last minute. Afterward, he said that any public comments could place him in legal jeopardy.
As recently as last week, no charges seemed imminent as a result of either of the investigations Webster was still involved in. According to Deputy Attorney General George Nilson, "there is nothing (that happened) in the last couple of weeks that would have sent a chill up anyone's spine."
And, while Nilson refused to commment on Webster's status in the investigation of the Pallotines, "the principal dealings with Webster took place a long time ago."
Still the fallout from all the investigations and all the publicity was having its effect. In a Baltimore restaurant a few weeks ago, a haggard Webster came up to an old acquaintance and asked him if he could steer any clients to Webster's firm.
I'm really hurting," Webster said, according to a person who took part in the conversation. He looked terrible, the friend recalled.
According to Webster's friend. Dale Hess, the half-dozen or so letters Webster left behind were addressed to Webster's business partners, friends, and members of his family. The letters are in the hands of the police.
At home, he had to worry about a wife who was ill, according to Hess. "This is certainly aggravated the whole thing."
On Tuesday, Webster went to work at his firm at One South Calvert Street in Baltimore. That night or the next morning he went to Ocean City, Hess said, to handle some of his Eastern Shore accounts.
On Thursday morning he called his wife, who said that he sounded "OK" Hess said yesterday. Then on Friday he called a friend who reported to and sounded depressed."
The friend called Webster's nephew Dennis who immediately caught an airplane and flew to Ocean City, Hess said.
This was the fourth suicide in Maryland committed by someone involved in a corruption investigation.
Also contributing to this article was Washington Post staff writer Vernon C. Thompson.