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Two decades later, ex-Baltimore police chief fights for pension  

The city blocked the pension 18 years ago after the former chief was convicted on federal corruption and tax charges.

BALTIMORE (CN) — A former Baltimore police commissioner who went to prison for corruption wants his pension back.

“It was supposed to be a transfer of paperwork with my attorney, then somebody stopped it,” said Ed Norris, now a radio host with 105.7 FM The Fan, in an interview.

Norris is suing to recover the pension he was awarded two decades ago when he left Baltimore to become superintendent of the Maryland State Police—a nest egg he estimates has grown to about $200,000 since then. But city officials said in 2004 they would claw the money back in light of Norris’ conviction in federal court for misusing the proceeds of another trust fund.

The case illustrates how scandals in Baltimore’s past are never truly in the past. 

Norris filed a lawsuit in Baltimore City Circuit Court on Aug. 17 against two trustees of the Rabbi Trust Agreement and GE Capital Assurance, seeking access to an annuity created for him on Sept. 11, 2002, as an “individual flexible premium deferred annuity contract.” 

According to the complaint, the two trustees—former Baltimore City Solicitor Ralph Tyler, now an attorney with the Casper Firm, and Norris’s former lawyer, Jeffrey H. Scherr of Kramon Graham—have ignored his requests for the money. Neither they nor Norris’s current lawyer, Richard Grason IV of Hanley Grason, returned messages from Courthouse News.

Norris, a star New York City cop and protégé of former NYC Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, moved to Baltimore in 2000 to become police commissioner under Mayor Martin O’Malley, where he took credit for reducing the city’s annual murder count to less than 300. He left to become the state police superintendent in 2002, before he was federally indicted in late 2003.

According to a 2004 superseding indictment, while city police superintendent, Norris took money from a trust fund that had been set up in1929 as the Police Athletic Fund and later used to supplement the incomes of destitute Baltimore cops and their families.

In the 1980s, the obscure fund was rolled into a supplemental account in the department. Shortly after he was hired, Norris directed the fund to sell about $160,000 worth of stock, using the proceeds “to pay for luxury hotels, expensive meals, clothing and gifts to finance romantic encounters with several different women,” prosecutors alleged. He was also charged with lying on a mortgage application.

Norris pleaded guilty in 2004 to federal corruption and tax charges. He was sentenced to six months in federal prison, and he has since maintained that he is innocent and that the charges were politically motivated.

Days after Norris’s guilty plea, Baltimore city officials announced they were clawing back his pension and severance, sending a letter to his lawyer at the time, Scherr, demanding return of the $137,000 severance package and saying the city would stop its annual $6,850 payments into his trust fund because he had not abided by the laws, rules and regulations that govern the police department, according to a story in The Baltimore Sun.

"It's not about friendship or pity,” O’Malley told the Sun then. "It's about dollars that are owed to the people of Baltimore under the terms of the contract. It's all a legal matter. ... It's a simple matter that the people of Baltimore don't owe him these dollars under the terms of his contract."

The mayor characterized Norris’s pension trust as “a sweetheart deal” and said he regretted it. City Council President Sheila Dixon told the Sun at the time that she supported O'Malley's effort: "We should get it back," Dixon said. "That's a simple answer."

Dixon would succeed O’Malley as mayor before resigning under a cloud six years later amid her own corruption scandal, which involved misappropriating gift cards meant for needy children. She preserved her own $88,000 annual city pension, however.

Norris filed his complaint as the city suffers its seventh consecutive year of more than 320 murders and the state’s attorney for Baltimore, Marilyn Mosby, faces her own federal perjury charges for allegedly lying on an application for a federal Covid-19 relief program and mortgage applications to buy two Florida houses.

The lawsuit demands specific performance under the trust agreement. It’s not clear what happened to the money in Norris’s account after the 2004 letters, but Norris says Scherr sent him statements indicating substantial funds. The Baltimore mayor’s office and city solicitor did not return messages. 

“I have so little knowledge about what’s going on here,” Norris said. “I went to prison and then got out. Got a call like five years ago about this fund. I was assured this was easy to get. I just want someone to tell me if I can get it. Tell me the black letter law. I just want an answer, that’s all.”

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