The former head of Baltimore’s free Circulator bus system was sentenced today to one year and one day in prison in U.S. District Court after pleading guilty to bribery and money laundering in a scheme to feather his retirement nest.
Barry S. Robinson, 65, expressed remorse before U.S. Judge Catherine C. Blake for taking $20,000 in bribes from a Charm City Circulator advertiser and for hiding 13 city-owned bus shelters with the intention of selling them for a $70,000 profit.
“I have learned a lesson at a great cost and, in so doing, I have destroyed any possibility of having a happy retirement,” Robinson said today in court.
As a dozen members of his family listened, he continued, “I truly regret the things that I did. They are truly indefensible.”
Whether city officials have learned any lessons from the startlingly lax accounting practices that allowed Robinson to carry out his schemes remain to be seen.
A Good Man
Robinson’s attorney, James Wyda, portrayed the eight-year veteran of the city Transportation Department as “a good man” given to many acts of kindness, such as volunteering at a homeless shelter. Robinson, Wyda said, simply committed “an aberrational crime.”
Given Robinson’s cooperation with prosecutors once his bribery schemes were revealed by an informant, Wyda argued that the ex-Circulator boss should be placed in home detention with a thousand hours of community service.
While Judge Blake agreed that the crimes appeared to be “out of character in a general sense,” she noted that Robinson had spent months hatching and executing his schemes to defraud the city.
“Mr. Robinson had a responsible job with the city and he did betray the public trust,” Judge Blake said. “I do believe there is a need for general deterrence and for recognition of the seriousness of this event.”
Prosecutors had sought two years in prison for Robinson based on federal sentencing guidelines. He will now report to authorities on August 10, and is also required to pay $13,550 remaining of the $20,000 in bribes he took from the Circulator bus advertiser between January and March 2014.
Out of Mind
No Baltimore City employee attended today’s sentencing – or provided written testimony on his behalf – in keeping with the collective burial of the Robinson case in the mind of City Hall.
When his indictment became public last October, a Transportation Department spokeswoman blandly described the matter as a “sad day for the citizens of Baltimore and supporters of the Charm City Circulator.”
Neither DOT’s director, William Johnson, nor Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake commented on the indictment, leaving unclear what it told them about “accountability” and “transparency” in city government.
Because Robinson pled guilty almost immediately to all charges, many intriguing aspects of the case were never disclosed by his own testimony or by the party he colluded with, known as “Person A” in the indictment.
What is known, however, is that in the absence of financial oversight, Robinson was able to brazenly build up his retirement funds based on bribery and stolen goods.
(Corruption hasn’t been the Circulator’s only problem. Lax management under Robinson and DOT has resulted in $11.6 million in cumulative debt, requiring a $3 million taxpayer subsidy for the service starting July 1 and the planned cutback of the Banner Route to Locust Point next month.)
Robinson is a poster child of the need for agency audits that are yet to be completed – except for one audit of one city department – by the Rawlings-Blake administration.
According to the indictment, the transit division chief cut a deal with “Person A” to receive four $5,000 bribes in return for writing to the Department of Finance that, based on his own authority, $60,000 in IOUs for Circulator advertising “had been fulfilled. . . to the City of Baltimore.”
Robinson then concocted a plan to scam the city of 13 Circulator bus shelters that had gotten “lost” within the bureaucracy and were being held by Robinson in a personal storage locker.
Reportedly, he used city checks to pay for the monthly storage fees.
Given that DOT “didn’t know about the shelters,” Robinson conspired “to sell them off for his own benefit” with Person A, according to the indictment, which provided this scenario of events:
On March 11, 2014, Person A told BARRY STEPHEN ROBINSON that Person A might be able to locate a buyer for the bus shelters who would be willing to meet BARRY STEPHEN ROBINSON’s price of $70,000.
On or about April 9, 2014, Person A and BARRY STEPHEN ROBINSON met to finalize the sale of the bus shelters. Person A tendered to BARRY STEPHEN ROBINSON the sum he demanded, $70,000.
At today’s sentencing, Robinson told the court that he had “compromised and sullied the confidence and faith [of] co-workers, individuals, other entities that I worked with, the Department of Transportation agency and the City of Baltimore. For that, I am regretful.”
But just 15 months ago, the pickings at city government were so easy – so within reach and so without countervailing checks – that this reportedly good man succumbed to temptation.