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May 13, 2011

Subpoenas going out in Ehrlich robocall case

The Baltimore Sun's Laura Vozzella is reporting a "surprising update" in the investigation of questionable election-night robocalls ordered up by the campaign of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

She writes on Baltimore Insider:

The update: They've just subpoenaed someone to testify before a grand jury on the matter later this month.

The surprising part: The subpoena was served on that someone right in front of me.

Political operative Julius Henson, who was working for the Republican former governor, faces a federal civil complaint in the case. The Office of the State Prosecutor also is investigating, though the agency would not comment on any subpoenas it may or may not have issued.

The calls in question told tens of thousands of Democratic voters to “relax” because Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley had “been successful” and that “the only thing left to do is watch it on TV tonight.”

Henson's attorney is seeking a stay in the civil case because he is aware of two grand juries probing the matter. Attorney Edward Smith argues the civil case could interfere with any potential criminal cases.

Earlier, Henson's attorney argued that the robocalls amounted to Constitutionally protected speech.

Posted by Julie Bykowicz at 3:28 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
        

Comments

The question raised by Bob Ehrlich's robocall scandal apparently of interest to federal and state grand juries has nothing to do with free speech; the principal criminal question is whether or not the Ehrlich campaign paid a proxy (Julius Henson) to conceal their involvement in illegal or unsavory campaign activities and expenditures (robocalls intended to suppress minority voter participation).

Federal and state laws prohibit campaigns from paying third parties to to conceal the true purpose and recipients of campaign expenditures. Federal law also prohibits deceptive practices intended to suppress minority voter participation.

The robocall matter invites review of Bob Ehrlich's and then-ticket mate Michael Steele's 2006 minority targeted ploy involving fake ballots and busing in indigent men from Philadelphia to unwittingly appear as Ehrlich campaign volunteers. Nothing in Mr. Ehrlich's campaign disclosures indicates how that ploy was paid for, but disclosures from Mr. Ehrlich, Mr. Steele, and the Maryland Republican party show $417,000 in mysterious payments to Allied Berton, a defunct commodities trading firm registered to Sandy Roberts, a friend of Mr. Ehrlich and Mr. Steele who secured a lucrative hands-off concession at Baltimore-Washington International Airport under suspicious circumstances during the Ehrlich administration.

Those same disclosures also show $600,000 in payments in the same period to a bona fide campaign consultant who specializes in African American voter contact, but that campaign consultant has denied involvement in the 2006 election day ploy.

I hope I'm not the only person wondering if the federal and state grand juries reportedly probing the robocall matter will connect these dots.

- Steve Lebowitz, Annapolis

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About the bloggers
Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

John Fritze has covered politics and government at the local, state and federal levels for more than a decade and is now The Baltimore Sun’s Washington correspondent. He previously wrote about Congress for USA TODAY, where he led coverage of the health care overhaul debate and the 2010 election. A native of Albany, N.Y., he currently lives in Montgomery County.

Julie Scharper covers City Hall and Baltimore politics. A native of Baltimore County, she graduated from The Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and spent two years teaching in Honduras before joining The Baltimore Sun. She has followed the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pa., in the year after a schoolhouse massacre, reported on courts and crime in Anne Arundel County, and chronicled the unique personalities and places of Baltimore City and its surrounding counties.
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