Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon resigns as part of plea deal

According to the deal announced Wednesday, Sheila Dixon resigns, effective Feb. 4. She had been convicted last month of taking gift cards donated to the poor for personal use.

Rob Carr/AP
Surrounded by members of her staff, Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon announces her resignation during a news conference, Wednesday, in Baltimore. Dixon agreed to resign under a deal with prosecutors, a month after her conviction for embezzling gift cards meant for needy families.

After more than four years of investigation, and a month after a guilty verdict in the first corruption trial against her, Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon agreed to a plea deal with prosecutors Wednesday in which she pledged to resign from office.

The move ends – temporarily at least – the public career of the city’s first female mayor and a longtime force in Baltimore politics. It also concludes a political and legal drama that has consumed the city for months.

“Today is a sad day,” Mayor Dixon said at a late afternoon press conference, unusually choked up for a woman who has long projected a tough-as-nails public image. “It is a cloud. But the sun comes out.”

An Alford plea

Earlier in the day, Dixon had entered an Alford plea to one count of perjury – a charge related to prosecutors’ assertion that she had failed to disclose gifts from her former boyfriend and prominent Baltimore developer, Ronald Lipscomb. The Alford plea means that although Dixon does not admit guilt, she recognizes that prosecutors have enough evidence to convict her.

Mr. Lipscomb’s gifts were to be the subject of a trial scheduled to begin in March. Last month, in a separate trial, a jury convicted the mayor of taking for her own use gift cards donated for the city’s poor.

Under Wednesday’s agreement, prosecutors asked the court to strike last month’s guilty verdict and give Dixon probation before judgment – a legal status that means the mayor does not have a criminal conviction. She will serve no jail time, keep her $83,000 a year pension and after two years will be able to run again for office.

In return, the mayor has pledged to step down from office as of Feb. 4. Dixon will also receive four years of unsupervised probation, contribute 500 hours of community service, and donate $45,000 to charity.

'A very, very favorable deal'

Prosecutors explained their decision to plea bargain with the mayor – despite apparent tactical advantages – as being the best course of action for the city.

“It was time for this litigation to end and for the city of Baltimore to move forward with a new mayor,” said State Prosecutor Robert Rohrbaugh.

Legal experts said the plea deal was about as advantageous an outcome as the mayor could expect, given her conviction last month.

“It is a very, very favorable deal for her,” said University of Baltimore School of Law professor Byron Warnken. “It so happens that a very good deal for her is a good deal for the city.”

Dixon said that she and her staff would work to ease the transition to the next administration, which will be headed by City Council President Stephanie Rawlings Blake.

“I love this city,” Dixon said. “I love the people of this city. And I am committed to this city in whatever capacity or talent that God has called me to continue to do.… What I owe the citizens is to move on and bring closure to this so we can continue to stay focused on the city.”
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