Jerome B. Wolff

En­gi­neer and for­mer state roads chief tes­ti­fied in 1973 case that led to then-Vice Pres­i­dent Spiro Agnew’s res­ig­na­tion

Baltimore Sun - - OBITUARIES - By Jac­ques Kelly jac­ques.kelly@balt­sun.com

Jerome B. Wolff, an en­gi­neer whose tes­ti­mony about con­tract kick­backs passed to Spiro T. Agnew led to the vice pres­i­dent’s forced res­ig­na­tion in 1973, died Fri­day at his Steven­son home. He was 98.

His death was con­firmed by his wife, the for­mer Eleanor Rosen­haus. “His heart gave out,” she said. Mr. Wolff, who served as chair­man of the old Mary­land State Roads Com­mis­sion, was not con­victed of a crime. He co­op­er­ated with a team of 1970s fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors who un­cov­ered il­le­gal cash pay­offs paid in ex­change for govern­ment con­tracts, a scheme The Sun de­scribed at the time as “a staple in Mary­land pol­i­tics.”

“Jerome dis­played a lot of courage when he came for­ward to tes­tify against Agnew,” said his at­tor­ney, Arnold M. Weiner. “In my mind, he did a great pub­lic ser­vice in do­ing do.”

Born in Chicago, Mr. Wolff earned an en­gi­neer­ing de­gree from North­west­ern Univer­sity and a law de­gree from Loy­ola Univer­sity in Chicago.

He moved to Mary­land in 1952 and prac­ticed civil en­gi­neer­ing. He be­came as­sis­tant di­rec­tor of Bal­ti­more County’s De­part­ment of Pub­lic Works.

He later founded two con­sult­ing busi­nesses, and along the way Mr. Wolff, a Demo­crat, be­came a close as­so­ciate of Mr. Agnew, a Repub­li­can. They worked to­gether as the coun­try added new roads and res­i­den­tial sub­di­vi­sions. Mr. Agnew was elected Bal­ti­more County ex­ec­u­tive in 1962.

“Jerry Wolff was ac­tive with de­vel­op­ers and worked with them to get wa­ter and sew­ers to their sites,” said Harry E. “Sleepy” Young, a re­tired Bal­ti­more County govern­ment land ac­qui­si­tion su­per­vi­sor. “He knew ev­ery­body.”

In 1967, as Mr. Agnew was elected Mary­land’s gov­er­nor, he named Mr. Wolff to be chair­man-di­rec­tor of the Mary­land State Roads Com­mis­sion. In that role he over­saw pre­lim­i­nary work on the par­al­lel Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Bridge and what is now the Fran­cis Scott Key Bridge.

“Among his fel­low en­gi­neers, the bril­liant Wolff was hailed as a ge­nius,” wrote au­thors Richard M. Co­hen and Jules Wit­cover in their 1974 book, “A Heart­beat Away: The In­ves­ti­ga­tion and Res­ig­na­tion of Vice Pres­i­dent Spiro T. Agnew.”

The book stated that Mr. Wolff “was justly proud of his pro­fes­sional stand­ing and was hon­ored when other en­gi­neers turned to him when they had a seem­ingly in­sol­u­ble prob­lem.”

As the state high­way chief, Mr. Wolff had a role in the de­sign of the old East-West Ex­press­way, an in­ter­state planned to cut through Bal­ti­more. Op­po­nents of the plan sold lapel but­tons that said: “Who’s Afraid of Jerome Wolff?”

“He al­most thought he was Bal­ti­more’s Robert Moses,” said for­mer Mary­land Sen. Ju­lian L. “Jack” Lapi­des, a his­toric preser­va­tion­ist and early leader in the anti-high­way build­ing move­ment.

“He was a bril­liant man but could be also be rather of­fi­cious,” Sen. Lapi­des said. “His stupid high­way plan would have killed the In­ner Har­bor and Har­bor East, Fed­eral Hill and Fells Point.”

Mr. Wolff re­lin­quished the state high­way post in late 1968 when Mr. Agnew — then-vice pres­i­dent-elect — named him a sci­ence and en­vi­ron­ment aide in his Wash­ing­ton of­fice.

He served two years, then left the post when White House coun­sel John W. Dean III made a rul­ing that Mr. Wolff had a con­flict­ing in­ter­est in two en­gi­neer­ing firms. Mr. Wolff then joined J.R. Greiner En­vi­ron­men­tal En­gi­neer­ing firm.

In 1971, Ge­orge Beall, a newly ap­pointed fed­eral at­tor­ney for Mary­land, be­gan in­ves­ti­gat­ing gov­ern­men­tal cor­rup­tion. He and his team of at­tor­ney-in­ves­ti­ga­tors de­tected cash pay­offs in Bal­ti­more County un­der then-County Ex­ec­u­tive Dale An­der­son, who had suc­ceeded Mr. Agnew.

Mr. Beall and his team dis­cov­ered pay­ments for gov­ern­men­tal con­tracts per­sisted even as Mr. Agnew moved on to Wash­ing­ton. The il­le­gal cash pay­ments were es­ti­mated at 3 per­cent to 5 per­cent of large con­tracts. He and his aides also found, to their ini­tial sur­prise, that the money con­tin­ued to be passed to Mr. Agnew while he was vice pres­i­dent.

“Agnew de­manded 50 per­cent of the pay­offs, ac­cord­ing to tes­ti­mony, and the other half was split be­tween [I.H. “Bud”] Ham­mer­man [a Bal­ti­more County-based de­vel­oper] and Mr. Wolff,” said a 1973 Sun ar­ti­cle based on a 40-page sum­mary of ev­i­dence pre­sented against Mr. Agnew.

The fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors who sought Mr. Agnew’s res­ig­na­tion found Mr. Wolff an ideal wit­ness.

“What made his will­ing­ness to co­op­er­ate with the govern­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tion even more im­por­tant was the sup­port­ing ma­te­rial he brought with him,” wrote Mr. Co­hen in his 1974 book. “He was, in the word of a pros­e­cu­tor, ‘a pack rat,’ a guy whose na­ture is to keep a lot of doc­u­ments. He also kept di­aries, and day­timers in which he wrote painstak­ing notes.”

Af­ter be­ing con­fronted by fed­eral au­thor­i­ties, Mr. Wolff de­scribed his role as part of the money col­lec­tion team who sought pay­ments from en­gi­neers seek­ing govern­ment work, then paid 50 per­cent to Mr. Agnew and split the other half. He told of­fi­cials he re­tained 25 per­cent and gave the other 25 per­cent to Mr. Ham­mer­man.

Through­out the sum­mer of 1973, as ru­mors cir­cu­lated that Mr. Agnew would re­sign, Mr. Wolff, Mr. Ham­mer­man and oth­ers co­op­er­ated with the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

They were sum­moned to the Bal­ti­more fed­eral court­house on the evening of Oct. 9, 1973, to sign le­gal doc­u­ments. The next day in the same court­house, Mr. Agnew re­signed his vice pres­i­dency, plead­ing no con­test to crim­i­nal tax eva­sion charges.

“The Agnew res­ig­na­tion was a ma­jor story, but it quickly passed,” said Mr. Co­hen in a phone interview Tues­day. “The im­por­tance and the drama were over­shad­owed by Water­gate.”

Af­ter the Agnew res­ig­na­tion, Mr. Wolff co­op­er­ated with in­ves­ti­ga­tions that led to con­vic­tions in other kick­back cases against Bal­ti­more County Ex­ec­u­tive Dale An­der­son and Anne Arun­del County Ex­ec­u­tive Joseph Al­ton.

In 1981, he re­turned to the court­room to tes­tify in a civil suit brought by the state and sev­eral Mary­land res­i­dents against Mr. Agnew. The suit ul­ti­mately re­cov­ered $248,735 for the state trea­sury, The Sun re­ported.

Mr. Wolff went on to keep an of­fice in Tow­son and re­mained a con­sul­tant in the field of hy­draulics. In 1978, a Tow­son judge re­versed an ear­lier sus­pen­sion of Mr. Wolff’s en­gi­neer­ing li­cense on a le­gal tech­ni­cal­ity. He also en­joyed as­tron­omy and tennis. “He was a won­der­ful man and hus­band,” said his wife. “He truly loved his work.”

Grave­side ser­vices will held at noon to­day at Druid Ridge Ceme­tery, 7900 Park Heights Ave.

In ad­di­tion to his wife of 57 years, sur­vivors in­clude a son, Jef­frey Wolff, and a daugh­ter, Karen Wolff, both of Bal­ti­more. Jerome Wolff prac­ticed civil en­gi­neer­ing and founded two con­sult­ing busi­nesses.

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