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Princess Anne commissioner has extortion conviction reversed

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The Court of Special Appeals reversed Lionel Frederick II’s conviction because Frederick’s actions were not ‘under color or pretense of office.’

A Princess Anne town commissioner did not commit extortion when he told a fellow commissioner up for re-election that he would convince a potential opponent not to run in exchange for $5,000, the Court of Special Appeals ruled last week.

Lionel Frederick II was convicted of extortion by a government employee and misconduct in office after pleading not guilty with an agreed statement of facts in Somerset County Circuit Court last November, according to the appellate opinion issued Oct. 17. His six-month sentence was stayed while Frederick appealed the sufficiency of the evidence.

Frederick’s seat is currently considered vacant but the commission has not acted to fill it, according to town attorney Paul D. Wilber. The town is waiting for the appeals process to be exhausted before taking further action.

“Where we stand right now is he is not a member of the council because of his conviction,” Wilber said.

The Maryland Office of the Attorney General declined to comment.

Frederick approached Commissioner Dennis Williams in May 2016 and told him he knew someone who wanted to run against Williams in the upcoming election and would probably win with Frederick’s help, according to the agreed facts. He told Williams if he paid him $5,000, he would convince the potential opponent not to run.

Williams reported the conversation to law enforcement and after Frederick approached him again he worked with police to record a call and the exchange of money, after which Frederick was arrested.

But the Court of Special Appeals reversed the conviction because Frederick’s actions were not “under color or pretense of office” because there was no evidence that Frederick used his position to convince someone not to run or facilitate his agreement with Williams.

“The law is pretty clear that in order to be convicted of either of these crimes, the person needs to be acting and using their official capacity, and there’s just no evidence at all that that happened here,” said Assistant Maryland Public Defender Brian Saccenti, who represented Frederick on appeal.

The state argued Williams could have reasonably inferred that Frederick planned to use the influence of his office to persuade the opponent not to run and the “surreptitious and clandestine nature” of the encounters showed the wrongful nature of his actions.

Without more evidence, wrote Judge Alexander Wright Jr. on behalf of the three-judge panel, the court cannot speculate about the help Frederick would have given the opponent or how he would have convinced the person not to run, much less if his actions would have been connected to his official role.

“As Frederick suggests, the actions could have carried out through personal influence, charm, or persuasion,” according to Wright.

Saccenti said he could not comment on Frederick’s current status on the town commission.

Frederick was barred from attending meetings between July 2016 and July 2017 due to a peace order taken out by Williams, according to The Daily Times. In January, the commission voted to conduct business without him and not take action to fill the seat until Frederick’s appeal was completed. He is up for re-election in 2018.

The case is Lionel Frederick II v. State of Maryland, No. 2350 Sept. Term 2016.


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