It was an unlikely alliance of two unrelated Campbells. One, a rough-talking, nearly illiterate "dirt-moving man" from North Carolina. The other a smooth-speaking, Howard University-educated judge.
Yesterday both men, Excavation Construction Inc. general manager Larry A. Campbell and former D.C. Superior Court judge Robert H. Campbell, were indicated by a federal grand jury, charged with a pattern of corrupt acts that allegedly drew the two men together, with both angling for financial gain.
What the indictment alleges is a basic scheme of courthouse corruption. Judge Campbell is charged with selling the favors of his office for such small advantages as help from the construction company in moving from one house to another, a load of topsoil and a rototiller. Larry Campbell is charged with directing favors the judge's way to save his construction firm from paying thousands of dollars in fines for allegedly using overweight trucks.
Excavation Construction is a major heavy construction firm and Metro subway contractor that has been frequently investigated by law enforcement officials during the last three years. As its general manager, Larry Cambell is a man who "believes in going out and doing things without worrying about a lot of protocol," according to one man who has worked with the firm.
"I don't write too good and I don't spell too good," Campbell once said in in the course of a lawsuit. In spite of the limitations of a six-grade education, Campbell controls the day-to-day operations of a multimillion dollar construction empire, while his better-known partner, John W. Lyon, is brought in for the big money decisions.
"If you saw Larry Campbell walking down the street, there's no way you would know he shares control of an empire," said a source who has worked with Campbell. "He's not what you would think of as a corporate figure. You always see him in shirt-sleeves with dirt on his shoes."
In sharp contrast is his codefendant, the former judge, a native of Roanoke, Va. A Nixon appointee to the Superior Court bench, Robert Campbell was educated at Knoxville College and Howard University, where he received his law degree. Later, he was an adjunct professor of law at Howard.
Campbell had worked in the D.C. corporation Counsel's Office, a job that began to put him in touch with the city's business establishment. At the time of his judicial appointment, he was head of the law enforcement division of the corporation counsel's office, and therefore the highest-ranking criminal prosecutor within the local government.
Most of his colleagues declined to talke about Judge Campbell yesterday, but those who did described him as friendly and compassionate. "You could go to Bob with tickets and he would take care of them without any thought of financial remuneration," one associate said.
In fact, in 1972, when Campbell was nominated to a seat on Superior Court, allegations that he had adjusted traffic tickets when he worked in the corporation counsel's office surfaced in a report prepared by the Fbi. Sources who saw that report have said that it contains charges that Campbell received cases of liquor and other gifts in return for cancellation of tickets within his office, before they ever reached a judge.
A grand jury subsequently investigated the allegations while Cambell was a judge, according to various sources. The probe was dropped because the FBI was reluctant to bring a case against a sitting judge when only a small amount of money was invovled, the sources said.
"Bob has always been a good family man, very active in the Elks and Shriners and a hard worker in his church," said Herbert O. Reid, a Howard law professor and now legal counsel to D.C. Mayor Marion Barry. The description was echoed by Superior Court Judge Eugene N. Hamilton, who said, "I just think he's a great guy."
Campbell, who was married to his wife, Hazel, in 1943, is the father of one daughter and three sons, one of whom is a lawyer currently serving as a law clerk to Superior Court Judge Luke C. Moore.
At the center of the indictment is Excavation Construction, the major firm of a network of about 30 construction companies with a reputation for free spending and a Wild West-style of operating.
Lyon, who is general manager of the city's largest commercial parking firm, PMI, a close associate of PMI owner and developer Dominic F. Antonelli Jr., and a director of the National Bank of Washington, was not indicted yesterday.
But the construction empire controlled by Lyon and Campbell has suffered in recent years while the two men contended with multiple law enforcement investigations and the conviction of three business associates on federal charges.
In September 1979 Excavation Construction filed for voluntary reorganization under Chapter 11 of the federal Bankruptcy Act. The company blamed various problems, including cash flow, bonding difficulties and a "cloud of suspicion" created by continuing federal investigations for its financial difficulties.
The first of the probes began in Baltimore, where an investigation into the activites of local Teamsters Union officials and alleged labor-management racketeering led to a closer look at Excavation Construction. Later, in a separate investigation that grew out of the first, two men were convicted of defrauding the federal government by posing as operators of a minority-controlled, small construction firm,
R&W Construction, that was actually a front for Excavation Construction and its owners, Lyon and Campbell.
In Montgomery County, it was a murder in the middle of a power struggle for control of a subsidiary construction company that led police into the corporate thicket of Excavation Construction and its related companies.
No one has been charged in the murder of Robert Lee Miller Jr., who was shot to death in a Rockville motel in May 1977. At the time of his death, according to Miller's family and other sources, Miller hoped to buy control of Interstate Bridge, the company he headed from ICE. ICE is a Nevada holding company, owned by Lyon and Campbell, which in turn owns Excavation Construction.
Excavation Construction also figures in an ongoing Baltimore grand jury investigation of allegations that Lyon and Campbell evaded federal income taxes by failing to report work done on their homes by their company, another investigation by Maryland State Police into whether a former police official illegally used a state equipment to check for bugging devices in Larry Campbell's home and offices and an internal investigation by the West Virginia highway department of two highway inspectors who accepted a flight to the Bahamas and a four-day fishing weekend on the company 's boat, the E-C Rider.
In part, the investigations grew out of an aura surrounding Excavation Construction. The talk in the construction business was that the firm always seemed to have plenty of moneyto do whatever needed doing. Adding to that reputation was that sight of Larry Campbell swooping from job to job in the company's helicopter and the array of other company airplanes, fancy cars and the boat.
The firm was started in relative obscurity in 1965, but quickly emerged as a major company. By 1977, it was one of the Washington area's largest heavy construction companies with $60.1 million in contracts and a fleet of red, white and blue trucks.
Along with financial success and a reputation for getting jobs done, the firm developed close ties to major area political figures, including former U.S. representative Joel T. Broyhill of Virginia, with whom Lyon and Campbell owned the Ohio Valley Construction Co. Inc., and Prince George's County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan, who has done legal work for the firm and was engaged in a separate business venture with Lyon before Hogan ran for county executive.
"Ever since I have known them or known about them, competitors have been spreading information" disparaging to the firm, Hogan said in an interview last year.