Today began the second week of the criminal trial involving Baltimore City Mayor Sheila Dixon. The Mayor is facing a seven count indictment, including two felony theft charges. The trial revolves around a series of retail gift cards the mayor received over several years from multiple land developers who were under contract with the city. Dixon has admitted to using the gift cards on personal purchases including an XBOX gaming system, a camcorder, and assorted items of clothing. This sounds like your usual back-alley political transaction right? Well, it becomes a bigger deal when you solicit the gift cards on behalf of the city’s less fortunate residents.
In the almost 18 months since Dixon was indicted the media had continuously reported that the Mayor’s defense would rest on the argument that she was unaware she had spent “those” gift cards, as if she mixed them into a pile with her personal ones. Although this defense appears to be relatively weak, we were led to believe that this was the most likely argument to ensure an innocent verdict. This strategy, though, was thrown out the window on the first day of the trial. In the opening statement by the defense it was revealed that the Mayor knew she was spending the gift cards from the contractors, but she had interpreted them as gifts for her personally, not for charity.
I wasn’t able to be in the courtroom when the defense gave this opening statement, but I have to believe the lineup of prosecuting attorneys were engaged in silent, mental high fives to one another upon hearing this new line of defense. They had detailed records of the purchases made using the gift cards as well as the manner in which the cards were exchanged. The gift cards were continually delivered anonymously and unmarked; not a particularly common way of giving a personal gift to a friend or associate. This is especially true when one of the developers in question, Ronald Lipscomb, is a man the Mayor has publicly admitted to having a romantic relationship with. For two people who had been involved in more than a professional relationship I’d think the act of exchanging gifts would be a little more than each one’s driver meeting in a parking lot at night.
This morning another of the developers, Patrick Turner, took the stand to recount his involvement in these transactions. Turner purchased $1,000 in gift cards in December of 2005 to be given to what he thought were the “children of Baltimore.” On Turner’s credit card statement he had a hand written note marking the purchase “office charity.” Prosecutors this morning also, for the first time, linked a gift card purchased for charity to personal use by the Mayor. It was discovered that a legislative aide to the Mayor had used a Toys “R” Us gift card that was originally purchased by the city housing department.
Anytime the mayor of a major city is on trial the story spreads nationally, but for the trial to revolve around Dixon reportedly stealing from City charities it shines a dark, unwanted light on our city. I think many city residents have been surprised at the success Mayor Dixon has had during her time in office, making strides in numerous areas the previous few years, but the allegations against her now risk overshadowing those accomplishments. Even with the advances we’ve seen under Dixon’s leadership as Mayor it’s impossible to sympathize with someone alleged to have stolen gifts from the needy children of Baltimore. Even if granted innocence, it is unclear if her reputation will ever regain strength as too many doubts have been exposed to, once again, entrust her with the future of our city.
Bohs and Os will have continuing coverage of this case as it unfolds. Tomorrow will be a critical day as the key witness, Ronald Lipscomb, takes the stand.