APRIL 30, 2009
Baltimore’s mayor has asked a judge to dismiss the 12 felonies she was charged with earlier this year because the bribes she’s accused of taking simply violate the city’s ethics code and not the law.
Sheila Dixon’s attorneys argued in court this week that prosecutors misled the grand jurors who indicted the Democrat mayor by telling them that she violated the criminal section of the code when in fact the lapses are punishable only by civil penalties because they are ethical in nature.
In January a Maryland grand jury indicted Dixon with a dozen criminal counts—including theft and perjury—for using gift cards donated by real estate developers and the city’s Housing Department for poor families to buy herself expensive electronic equipment, fur coats and other items. She also accepted gifts from developers with city contracts, including her boyfriend whose company she helped get millions of dollars in tax breaks and zoning changes.
Also named in the indictment, Dixon’s boyfriend showered her with lavish gifts as she used her power as a veteran city legislator to help him secure several lucrative, high-profile development deals. Prosecutors say the crimes date back to Dixon’s years as City Council president between 2001 and 2005.
The mayor’s attorneys claim that disclosure of such “gifts” (don’t call them bribes) is only required under a narrowly defined section of the ethics code and therefore all criminal charges should be dropped. Furthermore Dixon’s votes as City Council president cannot be used as evidence that she took bribes from a renowned city contractor because Maryland law protects elected officials from prosecution based on their official acts, according to her attorneys.
Prosecutors clarified that the legal protection is limited to civil cases involving state officials therefore it doesn’t apply in Dixon’s case. Besides, Maryland’s prosecutor points out; “a bribe is not and cannot ever be lawful.”
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