Former Maryland state senator Thomas L. Bromwell, once one of the most powerful figures in Annapolis, was indicted on federal corruption and fraud charges yesterday, accused of wielding his influence to benefit a prominent builder in exchange for concealed payments and other favors.
A grand jury named the Baltimore Democrat, who left the Senate in 2002 to head a state agency, and his wife, Mary Pat, along with W. David Stoffregen, a former president and chief executive of the construction company Poole and Kent, in a 30-count racketeering indictment that alleges a six-year conspiracy ending in 2004.
Bromwell's attorneys maintained the couple's innocence yesterday.
The long-expected indictment outlines one of the most wide-ranging public corruption cases in Maryland in many years. Its claims of bribery and extortion recall the culture of cozy relationships and compromised ethics that made the state synonymous with political corruption in the 1960s and 1970s.
At the center is Bromwell, 56, a former tavern owner elected to the Senate in 1983. He rose to the powerful position of Finance Committee chairman and staged a daring but failed campaign to dislodge the Senate's longtime president, Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), in the final days of 2000.
According to the indictment, Bromwell's ability to deliver favors to Poole and Kent was considered so valuable that Stoffregen persuaded him to abandon his announced plans to retire from the Senate shortly before the coup attempt. Bromwell remained in the legislature at Stoffregen's request and, in exchange, received $192,923 disguised as salary paid to his wife for a no-show job, the indictment says.
Bromwell's attorneys said that a "Republican-controlled Department of Justice" was determined to indict him, regardless of the case's merits. "Tommy Bromwell is a proud and honest public servant and feels certain that he and his wife will ultimately be exonerated," attorneys Robert B. Schulman and Joshua R. Treem said in a statement.
U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said the indictment alleges "a serious abuse of public office for private financial gain." He dismissed the notion that the investigation was politically motivated. "I'm satisfied the investigation would have been conducted in the same way regardless of Bromwell's political affiliation," Rosenstein said.
Two other construction industry executives linked to the probe -- Michael C. Forti, a former executive with Poole and Kent, and his wife, Geraldine E. Forti, owner of the company Namco Services Corp. -- have pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with authorities. It was Michael Forti who introduced Bromwell to Stoffregen in 1996, the indictment says.
Their relationship grew, it says, and Bromwell began using his power to pressure and influence people inside and outside government in ways that benefited Poole and Kent.
In 1999, it says, Bromwell helped Poole and Kent win a $9.7 million contract on a hotel being built at Baltimore's Inner Harbor by developer and political financier John Paterakis Sr. That contract had been awarded to another firm, a lower bidder, the indictment says.
The next year, it says, he intervened with officials at the University of Maryland Medical System, an institution whose financing he influenced. Bromwell pressured "high-ranking" officials there to give Poole and Kent a $13 million subcontract on a hospital construction project in Baltimore, the indictment says. In that case also, another company consistently made lower bids, it says.
In exchange for Bromwell's willingness to deliver such favors, the indictment says, Stoffregen arranged for Bromwell to receive payments disguised as salary for his wife at Namco, which was secretly controlled by Poole and Kent. Poole and Kent also performed free or discounted construction work worth $85,000 at Bromwell's residence, the indictment says.
In addition, it says, Poole and Kent awarded a $1.3 million subcontract for the state's Juvenile Justice Center to the now-defunct firm Network Technologies Group, which was paying Bromwell an annual salary of $80,000 to use his influence to help the firm get work.
According to the indictment, after Geraldine Forti stopped working at Namco in 1999, Stoffregen paid her a salary to allow Poole and Kent to use Namco as a front to appear to satisfy minority participation requirements on construction jobs.
Mary Pat Bromwell's salary was also drawn from Namco, the indictment says. Once, to deceive officials who were conducting an on-site inspection to verify Namco's status as a woman-owned business, she posed as the bogus company's chief operating officer, it says.
Poole and Kent said in a statement that Stoffregen resigned in March at the company's request. It said it was cooperating with the government's investigation.
Stoffregen's attorney, Barry Levine, did not return calls seeking comment on the charges.
The charges bring a measure of clarity to rampant speculation in Annapolis, where it has been known for three years that one of the legislature's most colorful figures has been under investigation.
Well over 6 feet tall, loud as a carnival barker and always flamboyantly attired in colorful suits and cowboy boots, Bromwell spent 23 years in the legislature building a broad base of power and using it freely to advance causes, from funding cancer research to passing electricity deregulation.
He often hearkened back to his blue-collar roots, holding forth on the Senate floor in a thick Baltimore drawl as he tried to persuade his colleagues to look out for the working man.
In one memorable scene in 2000, Bromwell lit into then-Sen. Walter M. Baker (D-Cecil) over his promise to retaliate against supporters of a bill intended to protect people from unscrupulous lawyers. Bromwell rose angrily from his seat, according to news accounts. Leaving his desk, Bromwell pointed his index finger at his fellow Democrat and yelled, "Stop being a bully! Stop being a bully! And stop threatening senators!"
After appeals for civility, Bromwell and Baker appeared to make up. Asked what the fuss was all about, Bromwell replied, "Testosterone."
Bromwell was also known to have a soft side, such as when he came to the aid of a cancer charity that needed help saving a bill that would direct state money for breast cancer screening. "That bill was dead until we went to him," said lobbyist Eric Gally. "Today there are underprivileged women in Maryland getting mammograms, and his support was the single most important reason."
But what really made Bromwell a force in the Senate was his instinctive ability to figure out just what it would take to sway another lawmaker, former colleagues said. He also was a risk-taker. In December 2000, Bromwell tried to overthrow Miller by organizing an unexpected coalition of Republican and African American lawmakers behind him. He failed, but he emerged still at the helm of his committee -- a feat that was widely seen as a testament to his political acumen and his survival skills.
Miller said yesterday that he was "in a state of shock" about the indictment. "Speaking on behalf of the Senate, we hope this matter is resolved expeditiously and as favorably to the Bromwells as it possibly can be," Miller said.
Authorities moved yesterday to seize Bromwell's assets and freeze his accounts.
Toward the end of his Senate term, Bromwell was handling large sums of cash, the indictment says. He once gave an associate $20,000 in cash to avoid paying taxes, it says.
In 2002, when he finally left the Senate, Bromwell took a job as head of the state's Injured Workers' Insurance Fund, a position to which he was appointed by then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D). Glendening could not be reached yesterday.
Two years earlier, when Bromwell announced that he would not let go of the reins of power to take the sedate but more lucrative insurance job, he said he expected his work in the Senate to be more satisfying.
"You know," he said at the time, "money isn't everything."
Staff writer Matthew Mosk contributed to this report.