Baltimore is best known for crab cakes, the Inner Harbor, the Ravens and now the trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon for stealing $1500 in gift cards. But where’s the beef? Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon is on trial for allegedly stealing $1500 in gift cards intended as gifts for the poor and needy. A former boyfriend and another real estate developer allegedly gave the cards to Dixon to distribute to less fortunate citizens of Baltimore according to the prosecution. The State Special Prosecutor’s office has relentlessly pursued Mayor Dixon for years. Taking millions of dollars of taxpayer money and many years to investigate and try this case seems like a vendetta to me. Now don’t get me wrong. If Mayor Dixon took from the poor to buy for herself that’s just plain wrong. But will a Baltimore jury convict her for theft of $1500? Will the jury ask instead where’s the beef? Will it be much ado about nothing?
The prosecution stems from when Mayor Dixon was President of the Baltimore City Council. The jury heard from a developer who thought the cards were intended for the poor. But then the prosecutor didn’t call her former real estate developer boyfriend who received probation to testify against her. Undoubtably he vanished in thin air just as the prosecutor’s case is going up in smoke. Now really where is the beef?
Recently many politicians have faced trials. Former Louisiana Congressman Jefferson was just convicted of taking $500,000 in bribes. Remember $90,000 was found in his freezer. Former California Congressman Randy Cunningham was convicted of taking bribes of $2.4 million. Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick cost the taxpayers almost $9 million in an elaborate scheme to cover up an extra marital affair. He plead guilty to perjury. Then there’s Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich who was indicted for allegedly trying to sell President Obama’s Senate seat to the highest bidder.
But Sheila’s case, as she is affectionately known in Baltimore, reminds me of Mike Espy’s case in the 1990’s. Former Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy was tried for taking illegal gifts, sports tickets, airfare and hotel lodging from Tyson Foods amounting to $35,000. The Special Prosecutor’s $17 million dollar investigation, 7 week trial and 70 witnesses added up to an aquittal for Mike Espy. Former jurors on his case said if the government has $17 million dollars for an investigation, they will find something on you too. And that’s the point with Mayor Dixon. Will a mostly female jury convict her of taking gift cards totaling now $1000 and dwindling by the minute? As a former Baltimore prosecutor, I seriously doubt it. The jurors are probably wondering too…where’s the beef?
As of Tuesday, November 17, 2009 the judge tossed out 2 charges and $500 of the gift cards. Could the case be going up in smoke too? We’ll know soon if it’s much ado about nothing.
Postscript: The Baltimore Afro published this article as Commentary in their November 17-27 edition, p. A-8.