01/13/2004 12:00AM

De Francis cleared in probe


Maryland's state prosecutor said Monday that he found no evidence that State Senate president Thomas Mike Miller Jr. or Maryland Jockey Club president Joseph De Francis violated campaign finance laws in arranging more than $200,000 in donations to a national campaign committee headed by Miller.

The prosecutor, Stephen Montanarelli, said the results of his six-month inquiry convinced him that neither Miller, a Democrat, nor De Francis had committed any wrongdoing. But he said his investigation was stymied by a lack of cooperation from Miller's staff at the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.

The FBI is conducting a separate inquiry into $225,000 in contributions that De Francis gave to the campaign committee in 2002 and 2003.

Although the FBI has declined to discuss details of the case, lawmakers and lobbyists in Annapolis who have been interviewed as part of the probe said federal agents are examining whether the donations were meant to influence gambling legislation in the Maryland General Assembly.

When details of the De Francis donations were first reported publicly last February, Miller said he knew nothing about the gifts and that he was taken aback by the amount. Later, he acknowledged meeting De Francis to ask for money and said he was aware that De Francis wrote a check for $100,000 in September 2002, but not about the other gifts.

A second check, also for $100,000, was written a month later. A third check, for $25,000, was given to the campaign committee Jan. 8, 2003, the opening day of the legislative session in Maryland.

At the time, De Francis was lobbying the General Assembly to legalize slot machines at Laurel and Pimlico, which are owned and operated by the MJC. Miller, a longtime supporter of expanded gambling, shepherded a slots bill through the Senate two months later. The measure was killed soon afterward by the House amid complaints that it would unfairly enrich track owners.