SUMMARY FOR WHAT YOU WILL READ BELOW: In Howard County, it’s all about who you know! Development is BIG BUSINESS in Howard, and there is a tight-knit group of folks who work for each other so that they can all get what they want (which usually involves them getting financially PAID big time! But you need to have people in the right places: judges at the courthouse, attorneys who will help to raise money for judges (their campaign) so they will stay on the bench ruling in cases that matter, a judiciary headquarters in Annapolis who will turn a blind eye to anything a judge will do (or won’t do), attorneys who will help you make sure your side-hustle goes the way you want, and folks at the attorney grievance commission who will go after anyone who gets in the way of that development or developers (to send the message to anyone else thinking of trying, to think again). Most importantly, you need a blind eye to all of it, so that you can continue to get away with it. The “rules” were not made to apply to the people you will read about below, because if they did… they’d be called out on their sh–!
Since no one else will…
Here we go…
The first set of 2017 oral arguments heard by the Maryland Court of Appeals: a fitting backdrop for the story that I will begin this financial disclosure transparency series with. There was Lydia Lawless, representing the Attorney Grievance Commission in their action to try to disbar two attorneys: Susan Gray and Allen Dyer. It was weird and unique in that in having viewed over 30 webcasts involving the AGC, theirs was the only case in which the AGC got to talk first and last. But theirs was a rare case in which the AGC apparently took exceptions to what the judge (Ronald Silkworth) found after having heard about two weeks of testimony in the trial against the attorneys. Ms. Lawless essentially opened with “lawyers aren’t happy with judge’s decisions everyday, but are bound by the Rules of professional conduct…”. She, obviously being one such attorney, went on to say things like, lawyers are only supposed to “file pleadings supported by facts”, and painted a story of Gray/Dyer being possibly paranoid that they couldn’t get a fair trial in the Howard County Circuit court… that it was motivated by bias.
I wondered where Lawless was going to go with this, and then I wondered WHY. The AGC seemed soooo determined to knock these attorneys out of the profession, and like all true prosecutors, they like to “get their guy” and put a notch in their “win rate” statistics. I wondered what stories the AGC had been relying upon in their investigation to make them keep going at it they way that they were. The real story begins in Howard County, Maryland, and though it’s going to initially appear that it took place around 2011/12, bear with me and you will see that it really goes back further than that.
Let me introduce Mary Ann into the story at this point. No, I’m not writing about Marianne (as in Lee, of the AGC), though she is also a Howard County resident (as was Mr. Grossman of the AGC until recently). I’m writing about Mary Ann the elephant that died in 1941. She reportedly fell over while asleep, sprained her back, and then died. How many of you knew that Mary Ann was buried in Howard County? Yep, right in a pet cemetery that is located on Route 1 called Rosa Bonheur. You may be wondering what in the world Mary Ann has to do with a Court of Appeals case, but if I piqued your interest, just hang tight… the story gets juicy.
I won’t get into the stories well-written-about by others about the cemetery folks (and those having loved ones buried there) who wanted to ensure that the developers who had big plans for that Washington Blvd area not desecrate Mary Ann, and other four-legged loved ones. The time was around 2011/12, and the Comprehensive Rezoning stories were also hitting the newspapers. It’s a time when property owners can request that their parcel get rezoned so that they can put something else on the property if they wish, and there were certainly parties who wanted to do just that. Enter attorneys Gray/Dyer into the equation, who were working pro-bono to represent the interests of groups of property owners who wanted to put some of the decisions into the hands of the citizens of Howard County in a process which is called, the right of referendum. Out into the world, went the petition circulators, to obtain signatures of residents in the hopes that they would get enough to make the Howard County Board of Elections put the question on the ballot for voters (you and me) to vote on.
Ya know, the power of the people and all of that democracy stuff.
As with all things, some people like and some will dislike the thing that might come into fruition. People who have plans for property (and have sunk their money into the plans that precede those plans) would understandably have an interest in making sure that their plans go smoothly to maximize on the time and money investments they already made. When you want or need a little boost though, ya know… to put the odds more in your favor, you can hire a lobbyist to do some of that oiling of the machine to make squeaky wheel sounds go away. If you’ve figured out by now that the story is getting ready to get political, you win a prize! I’m going to write it in an interesting way for you though (I hope), so hang on for the story that neither the Sun nor the Post apparently wanted to write about! I think you’ll wish that you’d heard it sooner.
Six map amendment applications were made in the Comprehensive Zoning process that involved land owned or affiliated with a Gunter Tertel (may he rest in peace, he died in August 2011). 7275, 7239, 7281, 7269, 7223 and 7283 Washington Blvd are the addresses. His estate was comprised of about 14 acres of land, and that’s the amount of acreage listed in the map amendment requests. A Mr. Robert Fila was/is the personal representative of the Tertel estate, and he apparently had an interest in the referendum stuff. I know that because his (and the estate’s) name is listed in the court case involving all of this in the Howard County circuit court. (Note: a “description of asset” he made for the estate filings did not list 7223 or 7283 but did list 6724 Dorsey Road, but I assume that all got squared away and made “right” somehow to add up to 14 acres). But he’s not the reason that I originally became interested in this case: Judge Lenore Gelfman was.
I could see that she was ruling on things dealing with the case, and I couldn’t understand for the life of me how she was being allowed to do so. I saw she consolidated cases, and that it immediately sparked the referendum folks to (properly, as it turns out) cry out that her actions basically gave standing to parties that had none before, while having others lose theirs. The pet cemetery fascinated me (I didn’t know there was one), so I began looking into the referendum stuff to learn how things really work here.
What a compelling story of how things work (and have worked) here in Howard County!
Mr. Fila was absolutely NO STRANGER to the Bonheur Land Company/Gunter Tertel saga, I learned! (The Land Company was formed in Oct 1997, fyi). He goes waaaaaaayyyyyy back when it was called something else. More on that in part two. Down in the Orphan’s Court in Howard County, one finds another name in the Tertel estate records: Ronald Spahn. He’s far from being a stranger to this circus. In a May 2013 letter to the Chief Judge of the Orphan’s Court he wrote, “On or about November 12, 1997, I lent the Bonheur Land Company and Gunter Tertel the sum of $200,000.” Absent from the writeup is mention of David Greenberg. Gelfman and Greenberg (as it was known starting in 1993), was the successor entity name of Gelfman and Gelfman which was mentioned only ONCE on any of Gelfman’s financial disclosure forms. She mentioned it in 1989 (year she became a District Court judge), writing that her interest in it and Paramount Title Co., Inc (formed in 1975) were transferred to Dick Gelfman in total.
Break in the story to make sure you see why this is part of the financial disclosure series: what do YOU think it means when the disclosure form asks the filer to disclose interests that are “direct or attributable” as you see on the forms here? The instruction for year 1992 states that “Any interest held by the spouse or child of the person making the statement, if the interest was at any time during the year for which the statement is filed directly or indirectly controlled by the person making the statement”. I can tell you how the Center of Public Integrity viewed it when they did their ranking of Maryland compared to other states in the area of disclosures/accountability (because I called to ask one of the reporters about their methodology)… they believed that “indirectly controlled” means those things your spouse has an interest in, and it factored into the score they gave Maryland.
The only mention one finds about Richard “Dick” Gelfman on the judicial disclosures of his judicial wife is that his employment in the early years was with WJZ-TV. Hmmm…. No Paramount Title, no Executive Office Commons, Inc. formed two years before becoming a judge, no mention of the purchase of Fila’s interest in the Twin Knolls commercial condo that Dick did with his brother-in-law David Greenberg in 1990 that only just recently got taken over by State Highway Admin? And no mention of Gelfman Law Group, LLC formed in 2000 that used that condo space (resident agent of Ronald Spahn). Oh, speaking of… you WILL see the disclosure of Old Annapolis Road, LLC in which Spahn is also the resident agent, though it doesn’t appear in the disclosures until the 2001 one with the note that the commercial property at 9123 Old Annapolis Road had been “transferred to LLC during 2000” (LLC was formed in 1995, and NEVER appeared in the deed system as having taken title of the property… oh, and it was also property that was in that rezoning stuff). See for yourself!
And while we’re being accurate, there is no mention of Old Washington Road, LLC (formed in 2003), the entity named Flatland Road LLC, or the Gelfman Law Firm LLC over on Maple Lawn Blvd (formed in 2012). A looksie into hubby Gelfman’s disclosures (he’s a member of the Maryland Public Broadcast Commission) for 2008 reveals him disclosing the ownership of NO real property (um, if you say so), but he’s nice enough to give a glimpse of what else we’ve been missing on the Mrs’ disclosures… “..I am also a stockholder and officer of Corridor, Inc., which publishes a monthly business and political news magazine…am also a member of several other LLCs that own real estate in Maryland..” THANKS DICK… can someone tell us WHICH ONES? It’s clear in the businesses that you both have formed that “your thing” is real estate, and development (your words, don’t shoot the messenger).
Back to the story, in which I’ve decided to call “Transparency and Accountability”, the protagonist, and will wait to name the antagonist. Every good story needs these elements. Let’s see if we can identify what or who gets in the way of transparency and accountability.
Mr. Fila: the guy who factored so prominently in the Tertel estate in the probate court, was accepting and filing documents that seemed to indicate that Mr. Tertel NEVER made a dent in the money that was lent to him in this whole “7269 Washington Boulevard Real Estate Partnership” deal. So from 1997 until after Tertel’s death, the money owed ballooned to a staggering 600k. Spahn: “It was to have been a short-term loan to be repaid on or before May 11, 1998.” And then, “Mr. Tertel made payments on the Promissory Note but never the full amount..” okay, if you say so, because no records or an accounting were provided to the orphan’s court, so I suppose one must take your word for it. And then, “Before defaulting, I was contacted by Mr. Fila and I entered into negotiations with the Estate…”, okay, stop there for a minute. a) wasn’t it already in default? And b) you are writing as if you and Fila aren’t EXTREMELY acquainted with one another socially and professionally. I’m going to save the story of the origins of these Washington Blvd properties for the 2nd half (and next blog post), but will write now that the previous owner name for the cemetery land was Bonheur Memorial Park, Inc., started in 1978 by William Green and RONALD SPAHN. Well, that’s because Spahn was the 1979 probate attorney for the 73 acres that were part of an estate that he administered to get that land!
Some documents to chew on:
Continuing on, Spahn writes (from the commercial condo space co-owned by Greenberg and Gelfman according to the letterhead) that he graciously agreed to a restructure of that ominous loan, has withdrawn his claim against the estate and that it’s “settled and satisfied”, and is happily getting $2500 monthly checks from the estate. NICE!, though I’m unclear where settled and satisfied comes from. And how did the estate, which was facing foreclosure by Susquehanna Bank, get money so that it could tarry on forward to prosper?
Mr. Fila reported that “The estate decided to restructure the debt. It agreed to pay a 5% placement fee to the individuals who organized new loans.” (see document above that says “17” at the bottom). Two heroes rode in to the rescue of the estate, and their names were William Armstrong, Esq, and Mark Feinberg. And Fila reported to orphans court that “On April 6, 2012, the estate entered into a new mortgage with ONE Financial Group, LLC for 1,300,000.00.”, providing a bounty of cash with which the estate could get some breathing room. Indeed, Fila reported that there was a sales agreement dated July 6, 2012 in which $6 million will be exchanged for all of the land, IF the property is successfully rezoned and Mary Ann and crew is relocated elsewhere. “The agreement calls for an LLC to be formed”, which will purchase and develop the land. And bonus for Tertel’s heirs… because they are going to “..own a 50% profit and capital interest in the LLC buyer and will share in any development profit.” Yay!, though I don’t know what an interest in an LLC buyer is exactly. Okay, so William Armstrong, Esq gets check #278 for $16,000, and Mark Feinberg gets cut a check at settlement for $79,000. (see page 2 of 6 above)
SCREECH!! Back up…
Do you mean the Mark Feinberg who was indicted back in 1996 regarding the fraud with his company, Consumer First Mortgage? The Mark Feinberg who Lynne Battaglia helped to sack before she became a Court of Appeals judge? More importantly, isn’t Mark Feinberg married to Sandra… who used to be Sandra Fila… Robert’s sister? So Feinberg is Fila’s brother-in-law, who started the LLC called One Financial Group just days before the settlement with the infusion of mega cash? Why it appears so!!
Now, I’m all for rehabilitation in prison, and I have no doubt that Mr. Feinberg has, but I just have to write that whatever deal HE got in relation to the ability to keep money that was the subject of that federal criminal case with Consumer First… well, he got a nice hookup is all I’m sayin. I mean, you get out, and you’ve got stacks lined up like that where you can just loan out 1.3 mil just like that? Damn, I’m questioning the thoroughness of the education that I got now from Howard County public schools! Good looking out by your peeps though, because your bro makes it so that the estate is paying you a WEEKLY management fee of $1200, according to pages 5 and 6 above . Just gonna write right here that I know people who would have done that job for less per week, and would have washed your car every day as a bonus Mr. Fila!
I was curious about how that kind of money could possibly be available and “in play”, and a very interesting tidbit reared its head. 8808 and 8818 Centre Park Drive were purchased in 1994 by Mark and Sandra Feinberg for 2.2 mil, with the settlement being performed by bro-ski Fila and his Allview Title Group (formed in 1993). Fila gets to pull a George Jefferson, and gets to “move on up to the east side” and locate his title company offices into the 8808 palace. Everyone was living large until the shoe dropped and news of a possible indictment likely rippled through the community. A buyer was very likely needed in order to get that huge personal asset off the personal asset ledger. Not everyone has those kind of funds…
ETB Enterprises, LLC purchased both 8808 and 8818 in May of 1996. The attorneys who are on the deed paperwork? Adams and Adams, as in E. Alexander Adams and Betty Smith Adams. ETB’s articles of organization were also done by Adams and Adams. Betty and her husband are ETB and J.P. Bolduc’s go-to-people for Maryland land deals (in Howard County at least). Millions are transferred, Feinberg gets indicted in September, and Gerard Martin, Esq works on his defense. Martin is identified by Judge Becker in HIS disclosures as having given some small gifts to the judge, and is labeled a “long-time friend” by Becker. Becker had went along with the fellas in 1986 before he was a district court judge, to purchase that Twin Knolls condo interest with Fila, Spahn and Broida. It is indeed nice to know people!!
The Feinberg cash-out
I won’t bother to give ALL the sordid details of the business involvements of Betty Smith Adams, Esq, who by 1998 had also moved on up to 8808 Centre Park into suite 205. Of particular note however is an Adjoinder Deed for property she and hubby owned that was made between them and Mid-Atlantic Development II, LLC in 1998. It involved a large chunk of property that is referred to as Cattail Creek Country Club. (Note: It’s just too much… all of these LLCs floating around, agricultural tax “zero” for properties, properties held for a little while and then presto a new community… much respect to title examiners who have their work cut out for them!) And it’s also extremely noteworthy that Betty was the campaign chairwoman for Judge Gelfman’s “run” (or crash, depending on your outlook on that campaign) to become circuit court judge in 1996. It’s also noteworthy that she graciously performed all duties necessary in the role of chairwoman for the Slate Committee to Retain Judge Becker and Bernhardt. Perks of the job (I’m guessing): are that you can be named as a trustee in a Howard County circuit court case by Becker in order to sell off property! (There’s a larger story here in Howard County about this pattern of getting intel via the courthouse in order to grab property first for you or your buddies… but that will come out in part two- if this site doesn’t somehow get shut down by folks who won’t want this public info OUT). (Note: a judge only needs to consult their mental Rolodex of attorneys in order to decide which one will get bestowed the task (privilege) of selling off real estate… the court DOES NOT maintain a list of trustees that have been (you know) vetted.)
Okay, so the Adams family…
Okay, let’s continue just a few steps more… Mid-Atlantic Development, LLC is using suite 209 of 8808, and so is Clarksville Preserve LLC by the way (which identified it’s “sole member” to be JTS Corp, owned by J. Thomas Scrivener). Allview Title (hi, Robert!) is in #207, and BRS Developers LLC is over in suite 204. I’ve never been to the 2nd floor, and I’d probably be shot on sight if I were to go there now, but I will write that that’s a hell of a floor! In writing this story, I came across Amanda Yeager, who had started writing a little about LLCs in relation to campaign finance loopholes, and about Donald Reuwer… who is THE GUY who at the head of the table for more LLCs than I’d be able to write in this blog post. Suffice it to say, BRS Developers, Mid-Atlantic Development, Ellicott City Land Holding Inc, some water and sewer company, etc etc are just a few. Yeager began to scratch the surface of some of them that were all using an address on Dorsey Hall Drive.
For purposes of this post however, let’s just focus on the connections to poor Mary Ann. Yes, Mr. Reuwer is involved, or rather, Land Design & Development is. As you can see from this affidavit and documents obtained and attached herein, the developer who apparently was interested and involved in Mary Ann’s resting spot was Mr. Reuwer, who sent correspondence to Calvin Ball regarding those Washington Boulevard properties. Curious that the letter was sent to the council member without any reference to a map amendment number or anything on it… I’m just saying.
So, it was Reuwer then who (among many others) had an interest in the rezoning going ahead full steam ahead with as few roadbumps as possible. Side Note: I haven’t gone through EVERY company who did a map amendment application for the rezoning process, but I’ve been through enough of them to see the ones who thought they needed to employ the services of a lobbyist in order to add some oil. Sang Oh and William Erskine made out like fat rats. And who are they, you ask? The answer will be limited to the scope of this story…
Sang Oh, Esq: lobbyist for the following entities who requested map amendments: Cadogan Property, LLC, Kwon Choi, JFC Holding Ltd Partnership, Taylor Family Limited Partnership, Jeanne C. Hoddinott, Peter Mangione and the Enterprises of Mangione Family, LLg Limited Partnership, BA Waterloo Townhomes, LLC, MR Merritt LLC, Charlestown Investments LLC, H&G Properties, LLC, Elkridge Mobile Park Inc, Christopher L Brown, Riffat S. Ashai, J&J Kat Investments, LLC, Shree Shrinathji Krupa, LLC, Donald Gauldin, AGJ Properties, LLC, John R. Calton Jr, Thines, LLC, Taj Davoud, Jagdambe, LLC, Buch Family Limited Partnership, Savage Mill Remainder, LLC, Law Dixie Lee, Cross Roads Park Limited Partnership, Plogger LLc, John T. Carruthers, Jr, TSC?Router 32 LLC, The Savage Limited Liability Co, CFM, LLC, and Richard Gelfman. whew!
Sang Oh, whose wife is Lara Weathersbee, Esq (appointed as a Magistrate over at the Howard County Circuit court), is one busy dude and must be super-intelligent. I can’t clearly tell from the docket in the referendum stuff whether it was him, Erskine or both of them who were representing the interests of the Estate of Gunter Tertel. I don’t think anyone would be surprised if it were both. He sat at one time (maybe two) on the Judicial Nominating Commission for Howard County, along with a very very long-term member named Fred Silverstein. Silverstein, is one of the big guys over at Offit Kurman. They are responsible for giving names to the Governor of who they’d like to have considered for a judgeship in the district and circuit courts in Howard County. The Governor appoints most of those members for a term, and the local bar association provides a few more members. Fred must be the BIG CHEESE….
Mr. Oh has nothing, and I do mean NOTHING to report on his required disclosure. I wanted to show you what NOTHING REPORTED really looks like:
Richard Talkin, I see you too over at Talkin & Oh doing your thing with your possey. I just don’t have the bandwidth at this moment to write about them all, except I want to note that your lobbyist disclosures SURE DO list a lot of LLCs using the same address as Talkin & Oh (5100 Dorsey Hall Drive): Lakefront American Joint Venture LLP; Kincade, LLC; and LPP Investors LLC didn’t need a map amendment to be done, but Dorsey Manor, LLC and BS Land Acquisition, LLC did do one. No suite number… are you all up in the same spot?
You know who else is a big deal over at Offit Kurman? No, I wasn’t going to write “Louis Ulman”, though I’m sure that he is in his relations to Ken Ulman and the position he had as the chairperson for the Slate Committee to Retain Judge Gelfman and Tucker in 2012 (there was indeed A LOT going on in 2012, wasn’t there?). I’m talking about William Erskine… Big Willie… lobbyist for ETB Enterprises, LLC (for one of their other buildings… they have sold off 8808 and 8818 fyi), John Paul Bolduc (for one of his own properties), Bavar Properties Group LLC (developer for Maple Lawn Farms Inc who sought rezoning for 11595 Scaggsville Rd) which paid Erskine over $33,000 for lobbying work from 2012-2013, Normandy Venture Limited Partnership, and Security Development Corporation. Impressive roster, sir, so I dub you co Big Cheese at Offit, while realizing I may not know the full story! I could have looked more closely at the campaign contributions for those judicial races, but I think that’s kind of old-school… I did see a few names that jumped out as being frequent contributors to judges, but if you really want to make an impression on them, wouldn’t you just go and make some mortgage payments for them or make a contribution that won’t draw attention to yourself? Who gives their real name anymore for cash contributions, etc?
One last thing about the Tertel and Bonheur property sale: Corridor Square, LLC is the entity that ended up buying most of it. It used the address “6800 Deerpath Road, Suite 100, Elkridge, MD” on the settlement statement when it closed on the properties in January 2016. Sooooooooo many LLCs out of that address too! Sang Oh lobbies for Cadogan Property LLC; Binder Rock, LLC; and Talkin does so for Carlos LLC. They all use suite 100. Meanwhile over in suite 150, Plogger LLC and Jessup Rock LLC are being represented by Oh. Another powerhouse address for something. But then Gunter’s heirs were supposed to be getting a 50% interest in SOMETHING having to do with an LLC, so maybe it was profitable for their heirs….
Sorry, I cannot resist pointing this out: are there really a Corridor Square LLC; Gold Leaf, LLC; H&H Rock Companies; H&H Rock Developers, LLC; H&H Rock Holding LLC; H&H Rock LLC; Deerpath Rock LLC; Greek Anchors Rock LLC; Green Acres Rock LLC and Elkridge Rock LLC…. ALL in suite 100 over at Deerpath Drive?
If I write that Gelfman recused herself from a proceeding involving Fila, citing that she personally knew them, would you be surprised at this point? If I write that she recused herself from a proceeding involving Mr. Feinberg, would you be surprised at this point?
Note: Benchmark Industries… Mark and Sandra Feinberg…
Would anyone know from Judge Gelfman’s disclosures that she certainly needed to remove herself from the opportunity to rule on such cases? Let me write a resounding NO! I suspect that Dyer/Gray may have had an inkling of some of the issues that may have led to them speculating about bias in that court, but I doubt they knew all of this when they were saying and maybe writing so. I also see that Linda Lamone is a prominent figure in both the Attorney Grievance Commission as well as the Board of Elections…
It has not escaped me that Betty Smith Adams is ALSO an AGC member.
If you wanted a “sure win” AGC, I handed a case to you when I reported that two attorneys were filing documents that weren’t supported by the facts in the circuit court. I provided you with 60 pages of supporting documents that proved it! Your answer was that you didn’t see anything wrong. This blog post says otherwise (click HERE), and the COSA confirmed to whom judgment went to. When a member of the public has to do all that I did in order to get to the truth, I’m not clear WHICH “public” the Attorney Grievance Commission is working to protect from attorneys doing clear wrong. Perhaps I just don’t know the right people (which is actually clear)? Or maybe you were just too busy working on the Gray/Dyer stuff to allocate resources to THIS member of the public?
I do certainly understand why the Judiciary might be giving me such a hard time about seeing the disclosures, particularly if there are judges who have perhaps asked them to (let’s be polite and write) DELAY. What they don’t realize is that I’m actually just trying to verify that things that should be on them (that I already know about)… ARE. (or, maybe they suspect that?) It doesn’t appear that our judiciary has any entity that is checking the disclosures, which begs the question of IS ANYONE?
Better yet, I ask you the reader… SHOULD THERE BE?
Also, and to be accurate in my reporting… it’s Mary Ann’s HEART that is buried at Rosa Bonheur. Her bones aren’t with her. Somehow, I think that’s fitting for this story.
Note: click on the tab at the top of the home page regarding disclosure series for all updates that will be done. Part two should drop in a week or so. Stay tuned for more!
Link is CLICK HERE for the webcast for the AGC vs. Gray/Dyer case
Center for Public Integrity’s scoring on disclosures for judges had this info to provide:
They gave Maryland a 100%
Link is CLICK HERE so you can see Mary Ann in her glory!
And let me not forget an important document: