The retired chief investigator for the Maryland State Prosecutor has filed a complaint with the Baltimore Board of Ethics about a campaign donation that Mayor Brandon Scott recently accepted from J.P. Grant, the Columbia businessman who funneled $170,000 to former Mayor Catherine Pugh as part of her “Healthy Holly” children’s book scheme.
James Cabezas, who spent three decades as the state’s chief public corruption investigator, says he was concerned about Scott’s potential conflict of interest for accepting donations from Grant and two other people, which were first reported by The Brew.
State campaign reports show Scott accepted a $5,000 contribution from Grant on October 31.
Three days later, his campaign reported donations totaling $10,000 from two people affiliated with Commercial Utilities LLC, a company that The Brew has reported has ties to Grant.
The contributions came just before the Board of Estimates approved a $12 million increase to a underground conduit contract that Commercial Utilities co-manages with KCI Technologies.
Scott didn’t attend the November 16 BOE meeting, but his designee, Christopher Shorter, voting on the mayor’s behalf, approved the hefty boost.
In his complaint filed yesterday, Cabezas links to The Brew article, saying:
“It sets forth information which alleges that Mayor Brandon Scott’s campaign committee received contributions from a company conducting business with the City.
“In my view, the conduct rises to the level of conflict of interest.”
Speaking with The Brew tonight, the Lutherville resident said the amount of money involved caught his eye, too.
“You look at how much that one-time [conduit] contract has jumped to and it certainly makes you wonder,” he said.
Grant and Johnson Silent
Citizens may make a complaint to the Ethics Board if they believe a provision of the city’s Ethics Code has been violated.
Cabezas checked the box on the form for “conflict of interest,” which it defines as when:
“An official/employee takes actions in their City job that might benefit them or a family member personally and/or might benefit their property or an entity with which they or a family member are affiliated.”
Neither Grant nor Kevin Johnson, head of Commercial’s parent entity, Commercial Group, have returned calls from The Brew.
On November 2, Johnson’s wife, Judy Johnson, contributed $5,000 to the Scott campaign. On the same day, the campaign accepted $5,000 from Ron Adolph, president of Commercial Utilities.
Since Pugh resigned as mayor and later pleaded guilty to corruption charges, Grant and Johnson have declined to speak to The Brew.
Earlier this week, however, Johnson told Fox45 that his company has no connection to Grant and has never accepted money from him.
Scott: “Not commenting”
In December 2019, after Grant’s role as Pugh’s secret benefactor was exposed and Scott was an announced candidate for mayor, he made a point of returning the $4,500 he had received earlier from Grant and Grant Capital Management.
The gesture was meant to show that “cleaning up city government and restoring public confidence is my top priority,” Scott said at the time.
The Brew has repeatedly asked Scott why he is now accepting money from a businessman he once scorned.
We also asked the mayor to explain his brief comment to Fox45’s Jeff Abell, who buttonholed Scott at a public event and asked about The Brew story.
“I want you to go back and look at what I said three years ago,” Scott responded. “I think that we have a justice process in our city and our state and our country and that was followed.”
We asked if that was a reference to the Inspector General report on Grant Capital Management, which resulted in the BOE’s termination of his two master leasing contracts with the city. As City Council President, Scott had voted for the terminations.
The mayor’s reply was brief. “We are not commenting on this matter,” his spokeswoman, Monica Lewis, said in an email.