First, a Maryland senator was put on trial for helping a grocer who paid him consulting fees. Then, another co-sponsored a bill to fund a horse-racing track where his employer helped build a casino. Now, a Maryland delegate who sells homes in the District is close to making a law that could help him more than anyone else.
Even as ethics reform has been among the legislature’s bigger concerns this year, Del. Tony McConkey this week authored, voted for and saw passage by the House of Delegates of a measure that could help reinstate his Maryland real estate license, which he lost in 2010 after the state determined that he had preyed on homeowners in foreclosure.
McConkey, an Anne Arundel County Republican, was ordered to pay $75,000 for what an administrative law judge called “fraudulent and unethical” behavior in real estate transactions. In one instance, the state found McConkey promised to help a woman keep her home, then didn’t return her calls, bought her property in foreclosure and sought to evict her.
Under a measure inserted into a bill this week by McConkey, he and others could enter long-term payment plans to replenish a state fund used to compensate consumers who suffer financial losses as a result of actions by Maryland real estate professionals. Three of McConkey’s clients were paid a combined $75,000 from the fund in 2010, making his debt to the state fund the largest of any real estate licensee in the past five years.
The Maryland Real Estate Commission says it has no evidence McConkey has paid any of the balance due. Under an agreement with the state, his license to sell homes in Maryland was suspended for one year. But commission officials said he would need to pay the entire amount due before seeking reinstatement of his license.
McConkey is still a licensed real estate broker with Re/Max Supreme Properties in the District. He has a property listed for sale in Northeast.
In an interview Thursday — after the bill with McConkey’s little-noticed provision passed the House by a vote of 138-0 — the three-term lawmaker said he wasn’t sure if the measure would affect his case.
“I don’t know if it’s retroactive or proactive or, I’m not sure,” McConkey said. “I’m not sure what the particulars are. . . . I’d have to look at it closer.”
Asked why he added the language to the bill, McConkey said it was to make the administration of the so-called Guaranty Fund clearer. “The code doesn’t really define the operation of the fund,” he said.
He said the change also was intended to “encourage people to repay the fund.” He repeatedly declined to say whether he still owes the state.
In recent days, state lawyers testifying about other pending legislation have said that laws often apply retroactively unless stated otherwise.
Given that, it is unclear if McConkey should have voted for the measure, since it could affect how quickly he could seek to reinstate his license.
“There is always an appearance of a conflict when lawmakers have dealings with legislation that affects their livelihoods,” said William G. Somerville, the legislature’s chief ethics counsel.
Somerville said he could not comment directly on McConkey’s amendment. In general, he said, the difference between the appearance of a conflict and an actual one often comes down to whether legislation could benefit a lawmaker’s employer, or a small group of people that includes the lawmaker.
In each of the past five years, fewer than 40 real estate professionals annually have been ordered to pay into the fund, and only three besides McConkey have been ordered to pay $25,000 or more.
With less than four days remaining in the General Assembly session, McConkey’s amendment has complicated the path of a bill that lawmakers say must pass. Without it, the RealEstate Commission, which licenses the state’s 41,000 real estate brokers and other industry professionals, would cease to exist July 1.
The commission opposed an earlier bill to let licensees set up repayment plans that was sponsored by one of McConkey’s Republican colleagues. Commission Executive Director Kathie Connelly said state regulators have viewed the requirement to pay debts in full before reapplying for a real estate license as a strong deterrent.
“Those who have injured Maryland buyers and sellers and caused financial loss to them should bear the full burden of their misconduct,” she said.
The bill must now go to a conference committee with the Senate. The legislature is scheduled to adjourn Monday night.
The McConkey amendment came in a week when legislation that would tighten ethics requirements for lawmakers in Annapolis stagnated.
The nexus between Maryland lawmakers’ day jobs and their power over legislation that can affect their pocketbooks has been a central concern since Sen. Ulysses Currie (D-Prince George’s) was charged with taking more than $245,000 in bribes from two grocery chain executives. Currie was acquitted on all counts.
The House Environmental Matters Committee on Wednesday dealt a blow to a bill that would require online posting of the financial disclosure forms of state and county officials. Under current law, the disclosure forms filled out by lawmakers and other high-ranking state officials are available for inspection only in a state office in Annapolis.
The committee’s chair, Del. Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore) said during a hearing on the bill that she is “in support of the intent” of the bill but that it requires more study because of concerns such as identity theft. The Senate has passed the measure.
Staff writer Greg Masters contributed to this report.