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Whalen: Illegal Contributions 'My Responsibility'

Catonsville Developer Steve Whalen says he will plead guilty to five campaign finance charged filed today and expects to pay $58,000 in fines. "I alone am responsible."

UPDATED (1:35 p.m.)—Catonsville Developer Steve Whalen said he will plead guilty to five counts of violating campaign finance laws related to donations made to Councilman Tom Quirk.

"The bottom line is it's my responsibility," Whalen said in a candid phone interview. "I did it, I alone am responsible. It was one of the stranger moments in my 32 year career and I regret it."

State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt announced the five charges in a statement Thursday.

Whalen said he has signed a plea agreement in which he will admit guilt in court. He said he expects no jail time and will pay fines totaling $53,000 for the five violations plus another $5,000 in fines related to other civil citations he said he was issued related to the case.

The developer said he does not expect jail time or prohibitions on future campaign donations or political involvement.

The plea is subject to acceptance by a judge. Whalen said a court date has not been scheduled but he expects a hearing "in a couple of weeks."

Davitt, in a statement, said Whalen paid three people $2,500 each in return for each of them writing personal checks to Quirks campaign.

Whalen is also charged with two counts of exceeding limits in donations to Quirk and for violating the $10,000 limit in donations to all campaigns in a four-year election cycle.

According to charging documents released by the state prosecutor's office, Whalen asked Michele Mandel to donate $2,500 to Quirk some time between Aug. 27 and Sept. 1 2011. Whalen then allegedly paid Mandel in cash for the donation.

Opponents of Quirk have long considered the contribution suspicious because it came from Mandel, who is a personal trainer for whom Whalen was a client.

During that same time, Whalen is accused of asking Diane Underwood and Darryl Hitt to make $2,500 donations.

Underwood is a personal friend of Whalen and Hitt works as a construction manager for Whalen Properties, according to the developer.

"They were not sophisticated politically and I don't think they understood the implications," Whalen said. "The bottom line is they made the donations because I asked them to."

In each case, the state prosecutor alleges that the donations were ultimately made with cash provided by Whalen.

If found guilty, Whalen could be sentenced to up to a year in jail and or a $1,000 fine for each count.

The three donations totaling $7,500 also put Whalen over the state limit on donations made to any one candidate during a four-year election cycle.

The donations also put Whalen over the state's $10,000 limit for all donations in the same cycle. In March 2012, Whalen contributed $4,000 to Democratic County Executive Kevin Kamenetz's campaign and $250 to the campaign of David Marks, a Perry Hall Republican, according to the charging documents released by the state prosecutor.

If convicted, Whalen could be sentenced to up to one year in jail and or a $25,000 fine for each count.

Marks said he plans to return the donation to Whalen this weekend.

"I was never contacted by the state prosecutor," Marks said. "The donation was [legal] when it was made but given the circumstances it's appropriate to return it even though there's no obligation to do so."

Representatives of Kamenetz's campaign could not immediately be reached for comment.

Whalen is the owner of Whalen properties, and is seeking to build a medical center on Kenwood Avenue in Catonsville. Whalen has also expressed interest in developing a portion of the Spring Grove Hospital Center as part of his proposed Catonsville Promenade project.

on the fate of the 190-acre property divided up the property for continued use as a state hospital as well as for the university and some open space and retail uses.

Quirk, a Catonsville Democrat, is not charged. The councilman, in an emailed statement, said he cooperated with the investigation and returned the contributions to Whalen.

"Our campaign disclosure laws exist to protect the public’s right to know the true identity of donors and to enforce state limits on contributions," Quirk said in the emailed statement. "I am deeply disappointed that Mr. Whalen violated his disclosure obligations both to the public and to our campaign.

"I remain committed to the highest level of integrity in public office and thank the Office of the State Prosecutor for their aggressive investigation. I do not intend to let this incident distract me from continuing the work I was proudly elected to do," Quirk said in the statement."

Whalen, in the interview, said the donations made to Quirk did not involve a quid pro quo for development decisions.

"There was no corruption," Whalen said. "The state prosecutor looked for that and obviously did not charge me with that."

Whalen expressed regret for embarrassing Quirk.

"I've embarrassed Tom Quirk and I regret that," Whalen said.

Stay with Patch for updates to this story.

RARE MARYLAND INDEPENDENT December 23, 2012 at 04:38 PM
Interesting how both the Quirkster and KK handled this. KK knows that he has destroyed any primary opposition in the future. He sent the message loud and clear in the last primary - "by any means necessary" to secure election. So KK is keeping the money. The Quirkster on the other hand knows he is on shaky ground with a possible primary challenge coming. His signature legislation of transgenderism - which even he does not follow in his business does not speak well of him. Add to that fact in his one opportunity with a large public group - Catonsville's home football playoff game, he like most politicians thought the moment was about him. Add the Mr. Potter situation in to the mix and Quirk knows he has problems. What I do find interesting - are any public servants coming out and questioning - If Mr. Potter (Whelan) is simply disregarding rules that he knows about and is being upfront about not following the rules, what building and devolpment codes are he and his crew simply ignoring because he believes these rules don't apply to him. Isn't this a public safety issue?
Chillin December 24, 2012 at 12:27 AM
Mr. Whalen is a frequent commenter to the Patch articles that feature his projects, often defending his position and usually writing in great detail. He seems to be pretty quite this time.
Chillin December 30, 2012 at 04:16 AM
Hey, why are Whalen's friends not being charged as well? Isn't there some law about conspiring and participating in such illegal activities that would land them all in court. Shame on Mr. Whalen for taking advantage of his friends if they were in fact too stupid to know any better as he implies they are "politically unsophisticated".
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