Don’t Look a Gift Card in the Mouth
No one who steals even just one gift card intended for the underprivileged should be mayor. I don’t care how effective the mayor has been. And if I believe Baltimore City Mayor Sheila Dixon did what the recently returned indictment alleges, I will not vote for her in the next election. That’s my right. And that’s the price one pays as an elected official. She has to answer to the voters at the voting booths. But should she have to answer to the voters in a courtroom? In my mind, that turns on the strength of the evidence of her intent to steal.
In almost all public corruption cases, the primary issue is intent. It is a lot easier for a prosecutor to demonstrate intent to steal when a public official steals large sums of money from the people he is supposed to serve and protect, or conceals valuable bribes or gifts. It is a lot more difficult to establish intent to steal where the total sum allegedly stolen is barely worth stealing.
Obviously, I am putting aside the seemingly laughable allegations that Mayor Dixon was supposed to declare gifts from a private relationship on a public form. This would certainly not stop me from voting for her next time, although Mayor Dixon has put me in the uncomfortable position of having to explain to my wife why I have never bought her a fur coat. Federal ethics regulations, which are much more comprehensive and better written than Baltimore City’s, allow exceptions for gifts given because of a personal relationship, so long as those gifts are not given in exchange for any official action. Apparently, there is no evidence of any such quid pro quo here, because bribery charges are conspicuously missing from the otherwise overly inclusive indictment. The indictment alleges some apparently furtive behavior relating to some of these gifts and travel expenses, but, otherwise, little about these allegations is troubling.
So we are left with a four-year investigation and looming prosecution, all at taxpayer expense, about the alleged theft of gift cards. Other than the allegations contained in the indictment (the purchases, for unknown purposes, made by Mayor Dixon using the cards), we don’t know, yet, what the evidence of her intent to steal will be. But it better be good. My fear is, if it had been good, it wouldn’t have taken four years to find a grand jury to indict the case. And the internal inconsistencies in the indictment suggest that solid proof of intent may be lacking. For example, if there is good evidence of her intent to steal gift cards from Developer A as charged in Count Six, there cannot possibly be good evidence of intent to fail to report the gift of those same gift cards from Developer A on her financial disclosure forms, as charged in Count Twelve.
I like the Mayor, and I think she’s done a good job for Baltimore. Unless the evidence of her intent to steal is, at the very least, provable beyond a reasonable doubt, this is one of those cases that should have been declined in a wise exercise of prosecutorial discretion. It appears that President Obama has nominated, and Congress has confirmed, a tax cheat (who also may have been subject to indictment) to be in charge of the IRS. Both parties say that it’s an embarrassment, but we need him because times are tough, so we’ll exercise the discretion to let this one slide. Times are indeed tough and Baltimore needs a Mayor who can stand tough without the distractions of a questionable indictment. Yes We Can doesn’t always mean Yes We Should.