Nephew in charge, Parren Mitchell suffers money woes

Frail ex-congressman being sued by creditors, owes $100,000 to Keswick

By Walter F. Roche Jr. and Ivan Penn
Sun Staff

May 31, 2002

Frail and slowed by strokes, former Rep. Parren J. Mitchell has spent the past three years at the Keswick Multi-Care Center in Roland Park, leaving his financial affairs in the hands of his
nephew, Michael B. Mitchell Sr.

Parren Mitchell's assets include a $60,000-a-year congressional pension and a trust that holds title to his West Baltimore home.

But Parren Mitchell's bills - including more than $100,000 owed to Keswick - have gone unpaid by Michael Mitchell, a former city councilman and former state senator who was disbarred
for stealing from a client. Michael Mitchell, who has power of attorney for his uncle, has instead used his uncle's assets to help pay expenses related to a Pigtown bar he helps run and to
buy a car that his uncle said he knew nothing about.

Interviewed in his room at Keswick, with a health care worker at his side, Parren Mitchell, 80, said that he had entrusted all of his finances to his nephew Michael and said he was certain
his bills were being paid.

"He [Michael] takes care of everything for me," the former congressman said, adding that he trusts his nephew to look out for his interests.

But evidence indicates otherwise.

  Despite his assets, Parren Mitchell has been hit with state and federal tax liens of $25,532.

  Though Parren Mitchell said in an interview that he did not know that a car was bought in his name by his nephew Michael, the retired congressman is being sued by the General
Motors Acceptance Corp for the $16,004.97 still owed on the car, including interest and attorney fees.

  A board member at the nursing home where Parren Mitchell is a patient says nothing has been paid for the former congressman's care since he was admitted more than three years ago.

"We're very concerned about it because he was a very good congressman," said Keswick board member Lionel Fulz.

"He's very sick. We're doing everything we can to keep him comfortable," Fulz said. "There's no way we would put him out."

But as Mitchell's bill continues to grow, Keswick is feeling the pinch.

"We're a nonprofit institution," Fulz said. "Any unpaid bill takes away from our ability to help others."

Edmond B. Nolley Jr., chairman of Keswick's board, declined to comment about Mitchell's case because of patient confidentiality. But Nolley said no one is in danger of being evicted for
overdue bills.

"Keswick would never discharge a resident for lack of payment," Nolley said.

Michael Mitchell declined repeated requests yesterday for an interview.

Differing lives

Though apparently close, Parren and Michael Mitchell have led sharply contrasting lives.

Parren Mitchell is a man of many firsts. He was the University of Maryland's first black graduate student, an honor he earned after suing the school to gain admission.

Parren Mitchell became the first African-American from Maryland elected to Congress, serving from 1971 to 1986. His victory made him the first African-American since 1898 elected to
Congress from a state south of the Mason-Dixon line.

By the time he had retired from Congress in 1986, Parren Mitchell was looked to as an elder statesman, and he had amassed more than 3,000 awards and 14 honorary degrees.

Michael B. Mitchell Sr., 56, once considered a rising star in city and state politics, was elected to the Baltimore City Council in 1975, when he was 29. By 1980 he was being touted as a
possible mayoral candidate. But his political rise stopped short later that decade.

Michael Mitchell served less than a year in the Maryland Senate before he was sentenced in 1987 to federal prison. He was convicted on charges that he attempted to obstruct a federal
investigation of the Wedtech Corp., a Bronx, N.Y.-based defense contractor.

Wedtech won $100 million in defense contracts under a minority set-aside program that Parren Mitchell had helped create. Though Michael Mitchell and his older brother, Clarence M.
Mitchell III, collected $50,000 to halt the congressional probe, Parren Mitchell pressed ahead with the investigation, unaware of his nephews' involvement.

Michael Mitchell also was convicted in state court in 1988 of stealing $77,417 in insurance money from a 3-year-old son of a murder victim - money he has yet to repay. As part of his
sentence in that case, Michael Mitchell was disbarred.

Parren Mitchell, whose personal finances have never been previously questioned, has long been viewed as a man of honor and integrity.

"I just don't see great leaders like I saw in him anymore," said state Del. Talmadge Branch, a special assistant to Parren Mitchell when he was in Congress.

Raymond V. Haysbert, former head of the Parks Sausage company, described the ex-congressman as "a hero and an icon to the total community."

Haysbert said he was surprised to hear that Parren Mitchell was having financial trouble.

"I'm just bewildered how this thing could happen," Haysbert said. "If there was no income, the whole community, including me, would chip in."

Parren Mitchell said he was unaware of any of the cases against him, adding that he has complete faith in his nephew's ability to handle his financial affairs and pay his bills. His primary
income includes an annual congressional pension estimated by the National Taxpayers Union at $60,070.

State land records show that the financial relationship between the former congressman and his nephew dates back several years. In 1996, Parren Mitchell transferred the deed to his
house at 828 N. Carrollton Ave. to a newly created trust. The trustees were Parren himself and Michael Mitchell.

By September 1999, the state filed a lien against the former congressman for a tax debt that totals $7,239.93, according to the state comptroller's office. And this year, the Internal Revenue
Service filed a lien totaling $18,292.43 for unpaid federal taxes dating to 1995.

GMAC filed suit this year. In the complaint, attorneys for the credit company state that the 1998 Buick was purchased on Parren Mitchell's behalf on April 20, 1999, with Michael Mitchell
signing under a power of attorney.

Michael Mitchell also signed a loan document on Parren Mitchell's behalf that called for payments totaling $23,163 over a 60-month period.

According to court records, $13,413 remains due on the note.

In an April 4, 2001, letter to Parren Mitchell sent in care of his nephew, a GMAC official wrote that "the account is seriously past due."

"It has been brought to our attention," the letter continues, "that the above vehicle was in an accident on Dec. 12, 2000. We have inspected the vehicle ... and the damages are extensive.
We have been advised that there was no insurance in effect at the time of the accident."

Included in the file is a copy of the accident report showing that Michael Mitchell was driving the car when it ran into the rear of a truck from South Carolina on Ritchie Highway at 2:43
a.m. on Dec. 12, 2000.

Court records show that Michael Mitchell was charged on the same day with negligent driving but was later found not guilty.

Deeper in debt

And Michael Mitchell continues to sink deeper into debt, with tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid state and federal taxes and hundreds of thousands of dollars in judgments for
money due creditors, including mortgage payments on his home, which is facing foreclosure, according to court records.

Michael Mitchell's personal debts, some of them dating to before he went to prison, are substantially larger than those of his uncle. State tax liens total $73,312.56, and federal tax liens
total $219,981.97 plus interest.

The debts have continued to pile up even though Michael Mitchell has been a full time employee of the Maryland Transportation Authority since July 1, 1999. He draws an annual salary
of $40,575. He is listed as a coordinator for a program called Managing For Results.

He also runs a business on the side - a Pigtown bar, called the Short Stop - that neighbors want closed because of shootings and constant public disturbances, according to the city
liquor board.

Sources say that Michael Mitchell has used his uncle's checking account to pay expenses related to the bar at 1415 Washington Blvd.

Though Michael Mitchell is not listed as an owner of the bar, his name appears several times in records at the city liquor board and other city agencies, including the Health Department,
as a responsible party.

A handwritten notation on a document relating to the bar dated Dec. 13 at the health agency states, "Business is being bought by Michael Mitchell." Other city records list Michael
Mitchell as a contact person or "business manager" for the bar. His name appears as a director in incorporation papers for Savannah Inc., one of the corporate names used by the
west-side pub.

Under state liquor laws, convicted felons are not allowed to have an ownership interest in licensed establishments.

Sitting in his room at Keswick, Parren Mitchell expressed confidence Wednesday that his nephew is properly handling his financial affairs.

Although he said that he did not know about the car, Parren Mitchell said he was "glad" that his nephew had bought a car for him. He appeared surprised to hear that bills in his name
have been going unpaid, but said he was feeling well and was well taken care of.

He sat quietly in his chair amid a tangle of tubes as one of the round-the-clock aides assigned to his care looked on. Fresh flowers brightened a nearby window sill.

"It's too nice out there to be inside," said Mitchell looking toward the window. He said he hadn't been able to get out recently, "but I hope to soon."

Copyright © 2002, The Baltimore Sun