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Granzow pleads guilty in corruption scandal

Ex-PG fire official admits to bribery

A retired Prince George’s fire official has pleaded guilty in connection with the widespread corruption scandal that has taken down developers, public officials and police officers in the county in the last several months, according to federal court documents unsealed Monday.

Karl Granzow, a former lieutenant colonel in the Prince George’s fire department, pleaded guilty in March to conspiring to commit extortion and to income tax evasion.

Granzow, 46, admitted in his guilty plea that he partnered with county developers for more than 10 years in bribing public officials for favors related to the Greenbelt Station development project.

Among politicians netted in the corruption probe were former County Executive Jack B. Johnson, who pleaded guilty in May to two felonies - extortion conspiracy and tampering with a witness and evidence in connection with the pay-to-play scheme. Leslie E. Johnson, his wife and a current County Council member, pleaded guilty last month to attempting to conceal bribe money given to her husband by developers as federal agents converged on the couple’s Mitchellville home in November.

Granzow first became the subject of public scrutiny in 2008 after FBI agents raided his home and office, along with the offices of developers Daniel Colton and Patrick Ricker, who have also pleaded guilty to charges related to the scandal. The home of former County Council member Thomas R. Hendershot was also raided at the time. He, however, has not been named in the corruption probe.

According to Granzow’s plea agreement, from 1997 through 2008, he, Colton, Ricker and other yet-to-be-named people offered bribes in the form of mortgage payments, airline tickets, meals and other gifts. They also facilitated straw donations to public officials in exchange for favorable actions on the Greenbelt development project, the agreement states.

Though officials provided approval letters for the mixed-used project, near the Greenbelt Metro station, and created a special taxing district, the project remains undeveloped.

Prosecutors say Granzow provided $30,000 to $70,000 worth of bribes and illicit campaign contributions to public officials and others. He faces a maximum of five years in prison for each of the two offenses.

Recruiting at least a dozen family members and employees as “straw donors,” Granzow and the developers provided thousands of dollars in contributions to state and local political campaigns that were above the legal limits.

The straw donors are not named in the plea agreement, but they are identified by their initials, the amounts of their contributions and the dates they made the donations. Comparing the amounts given by the initialed donors with campaign finance records and the federal search warrant issued in 2008, 10 people appear in both records, and in the search warrant the appearance of those names on any documents indicated the property should be seized.

Based on an analysis of campaign contributions, former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele and former Rep. Albert Wynn appear to be among the recipients of the straw donations.

None of the candidates who received the donations has been accused of any wrongdoing. And nothing in the plea agreement indicates the candidates or their campaign committees were even aware of the illegal nature of the contributions.

About the Author

Andrea Noble

Andrea Noble is a crime and public safety reporter for The Washington Times. She can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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