A prominent Catonsville developer accused of channeling $7,500 in illegal contributions to a Baltimore County councilman and exceeding the total campaign contribution limit for individuals was charged Thursday with violating campaign contribution laws.
The criminal charges against Stephen W. Whalen Jr., 62, of Whalen Properties stem from contributions made to Catonsville-area Councilman Tom Quirk, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and Towson-area Councilman David Marks.
Whalen has reached a plea agreement with prosecutors, according to his lawyer, who declined to offer details.
The case could have implications for a medical office development in Catonsville being planned by Whalen. Residents fighting the plan say they hope the criminal charges against the developer will help them halt the project.
Prosecutors said Whalen broke state election laws by funneling cash to three people to give to Quirk's campaign — an illegal practice known as "straw contributions." Whalen also is charged with exceeding the $10,000 total contribution limit that donors are allowed to give collectively in a four-year election cycle.
Whalen told The Baltimore Sun on Thursday that he is "contrite" about giving money to others to contribute. He called it a bad decision and said he "can't run away from my responsibility for it."
"I knew that it was wrong, and I did it anyway," he said. "The only person with any responsibility in this entire thing is Steve Whalen. ... Nobody else did anything wrong except me."
His attorney, Andrew Jay Graham, said no hearing date has been set.
Whalen was charged with five counts in Baltimore County Circuit Court. Three charges of improperly channeling money to Quirk are each punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Two counts of breaking contribution limits are each punishable by one year in jail and a $25,000 fine.
Whalen is a well-known and controversial figure in Catonsville. While some local residents criticized his hefty contributions to politicians, others have lauded his business vision.
The state prosecutor's office investigates matters of public corruption and misconduct, election law violations and other crimes.
"Strict enforcement of the existing campaign finance laws is the public's only protection from the corrupting influence of the enormous sums of money spent on the election of candidates," State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt said in a statement. "Those who blatantly violate those laws will be held strictly accountable for their violations."
Prosecutors allege that in the late summer of 2011, Whalen gave $2,500 in cash each to three people in exchange for their personal checks for contributions to Friends of Tom Quirk. In giving the money, he also exceeded the $4,000 contribution limit to a single candidate, they said.
Prosecutors also allege that he violated the law when he contributed $4,000 to the Committee for Kevin Kamenetz and $250 to Friends of David Marks in addition to the $7,500 given to Friends of Tom Quirk. That total exceeded the $10,000 limit.
In a statement Thursday, Quirk, a Catonsville Democrat, said that when he and his campaign "learned that three contributions were not accurately identified, we immediately contacted the State Election Board."
Quirk said the contributions have been returned and that he fully cooperated with investigators. He thanked the state prosecutor for an "aggressive investigation."
"Our campaign disclosure laws exist to protect the public's right to know the true identity of donors and to enforce state limits on contributions," Quirk said. "I am deeply disappointed that Mr. Whalen violated his disclosure obligations both to the public and to our campaign. ... I do not intend to let this incident distract me from continuing the work I was proudly elected to do."
Marks, a Perry Hall Republican, said he was not contacted by investigators. In a statement, he said he "did not receive any contribution that was inappropriate at the time it was given."
"Although I am not required to do so, I will return the $250 donation to Mr. Whalen," Marks said.
Kamenetz's campaign treasurer could not immediately be reached for comment.