Experts: Leopold Charges Show Moral, If Not Criminal Lapses
Legal experts said the charges against the Anne Arundel County executive show weakness, but that prosecutors will have to work hard to convict.
The allegations outlined in an indictment against Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold are publicly embarrassing, legal experts said, but prosecutors could have trouble convincing a jury that he broke the law.
Maryland State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt announced on Friday that an Anne Arundel County grand jury handed down a nine-page indictment alleging that Leopold stole and hid campaign signs from a political opponent and used county police officers to drive him to sexual dalliances in public parking lots in 2010. The indictment includes four counts of misconduct and another of fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in jail.
The indictment alleges that Leopold:
- Used an appointment scheduler to keep two of his girlfriends from finding out about one another.
- Used personal security officers to drive him to parking lots in Annapolis, where he would engage in sexual activity with a girlfriend. (The indictment said the incidents would last as long as 45 minutes, and that he would return and comment on the activity to the officers.)
- Using the security detail to run personal errands for him while he was recovering from back surgery.
- Asked personal security detail to steal and hide signs from a Democratic opponent. The indictment said that on at least six occasions, he personally removed and damaged the opponent’s political signs.
Lawyers involved in public corruption cases said most of the allegations show moral lapses on the part of the county executive, but little criminal behavior.
The most serious charge, they said, is the one of fraud, in which the prosecutor alleges Leopold’s use of the security officers led to the county spending $5,000 in overtime pay. If convicted on the fraud charge, Leopold would face a minimum of one year in jail.
But getting that conviction could prove challenging, said Steven D. Silverman, a Baltimore attorney who has defended public figures in corruption cases.
“Absent bribes or payoffs those types of benefits are very difficult to draw the line on what is criminal and what is distasteful,” Silverman said. “If he went out to dinner with his family on a Friday night, would that also be covered? That use of a car and driver is a gray area, because of the security concerns involving public officials.”
Silverman said Leopold will have a tougher battle against the charges of destroying campaign signs. Those allegations, he said, outline clear attempts at destruction of property.
Locally, there is precedent for a conviction in such a case. In September, an engineer was convicted of theft and fined $5,000 for removing pro-slots signs prior to the 2010 referendum regarding a casino at Arundel Mills.
The indictment against Leopold offers a detailed account claiming that Leopold “knowingly, willfully and intentionally” stole campaign signs from Joanna Conti, his Democratic opponent in 2010. The indictment claims the security officers would do this regularly for as much as three hours at a time on weekdays during the campaign season.
The indictment also claims that Leopold himself took part in the sign-stealing effort, describing one case in which “Leopold exited [a] vehicle, pulled the Joanna Conti campaign sign from the ground and threw it down a ravine into the woods, rendering it useless as an advertisement to passing potential voters.”
The indictment claims Leopold performed a similar act on at least five other occasions.
Prosecutors also said Leopold used the security detail to retrieve his own signs after the election was over.
Steve Levin, an attorney who prosecuted former Baltimore Police Commissioner Ed Norris, said corruption cases are notoriously difficult to prove because prosecutors must convince juries that the defendant knew what he was doing was wrong.
“Oftentimes in public corruption cases, there are two major hurdles for the pros to overcome,” Levin said. “The first is whether the defendant committed the act and whether the person intended to misappropriate. It’s not a simple case where someone committed a bank robbery. They have to prove he did it and intended to do it. These are much more complicated cases for prosecutors.”