Whalen Pleads Guilty, Receives Probation Before Judgment
Catonsville developer called the illegal donations he made "the dumbest thing I've ever done" and paid $58,000 in fines.
UPDATED (4:04 p.m.)—Steven Whalen pleaded guilty in Baltimore County Circuit Court in Towson Thursday, and was sentenced to probation before judgment and fines totaling $58,000.
Whalen, a Catonsville developer, was charged two weeks ago by the Maryland State Prosecutor on five counts of violating state campaign finance laws relating to $7,500 in donations he made to Councilman Tom Quirk through a friend, employee and his personal trainer.
Whalen told Judge John Grason Turnbull II that the donations "were one of the dumbest things I've ever done."
Following the trial, Whalen said he wanted to help Quirk but said he decided against making the donations legally through any of his half-dozen companies because it would be linked to him.
Whalen said opponents of the Southwest West Physicians Pavilion Project on Kenwood Avenue would use information on the donations "to hurt me, hurt the project, hurt the [Quirk]."
Whalen, a developer with 40 years experience, said he's used to opposition but allowed opponents of this project to get under his skin.
"I was angry and I wasn't thinking," Whalen said, but later added that he believed the straw donations would result in little more than a civil fine based on cases involving other developers including Ed St. John.
"That was what I was thinking," Whalen said. "I didn't think there would be criminal charges."
Whalen paid three people $2,500 each in return for each of them writing personal checks to Quirks campaign. The tactic, known as a straw donation, allows a donor to hide the true source of the donations and skirt state laws regarding transparency.
Whalen withdrew $8,500 in cash from the account of his company asked his personal trainer Michele Mandel to donate $2,500 to Quirk some time between Aug. 27 and Sept. 1 2011. Whalen then paid Mandel in cash for the donation.
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.
In court, Whalen took full responsibility, telling Turnbull that he took advantage of people who were "politically unsophisticated."
"I used them," Whalen said.
Whalen, following the trial, said he could not remember what happened to the remaining $1,000.
"I didn't make a campaign donation," he said. "I don't remember what happened to it. Hopefully I did something fun with it."
Whalen also pleaded guilty to two counts of violating campaign donation limits.
In the first count, the $7,500 of donations forced Whalen over the limit of $4,000 that may be given to any one candidate in a four-year period.
In the second count, the $7,500 brought Whalen's total personal donations for the same four-year period to more than $11,000. State law limits donations to a total of $10,000 in any four-year term.
Turnbull sentenced Whalen to probation before judgment and ordered the developer to pay $53,000 in fines—the full penalty under law for the five counts. Whalen also paid $5,000 associated with related civil citations.
Whalen paid the fines before leaving the courthouse—satisfying the terms of his probation and allowing him to apply to have his record expunged.
Marks said he planned on returning the donation. Kamenetz plans to keep the donation.
David Ferguson, Executive Director of the Maryland Republican Party, called for Kamenetz and other Democrats to return money donated by Whalen.
“Those who have received contributions from Stephen Whalen should follow the lead of Baltimore County Councilman David Marks and return his dirty contributions," Ferguson said in a statement Thursday afternoon.
"Stephen Whalen’s conviction is another consequence of Maryland being a political monopoly for Democrats and their cronies," Ferguson continued in his statement. "Unfortunately, this culture of corruption is standard operating procedure for crooked politicians and donors like Stephen Whalen looking to pay-for-play."
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.
The project was mentioned in a number of emails between Quirk and Whalen at the same time the councilman was asking his developer friend to help him raise money.
Quirk, a Catonsville Democrat, was not charged. The councilman, in a text message, said he was in meetings and not immediately available for an interview.
"As the State Prosecutor noted, our campaign committee was misled about the true identity of these donors," Quirk said in a statement emailed from his campaign. "We reported our concerns to the State Election Board as soon as we became aware of it, cooperated fully with the State Prosecutor in its investigation of Mr. Whalen, and returned the contributions in full. I thank the State Prosecutor for vigorously investigating this violation of our campaign finance laws."
Following the trial, State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt declined to elaborate on the proceedings saying that it would open up a discussion of the investigation. When asked if the investigations was closed, Davitt would only say "We'd certainly follow up if new information were presented to us."