For­mer state del­e­gate was con­victed, and later ex­on­er­ated, in real es­tate scan­dal in­volv­ing Gov. Marvin Man­del

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Jac­ques Kelly jac­ques.kelly@balt­

W. Dale Hess, who rose to ma­jor­ity floor leader in the Mary­land House of Del­e­gates and was later con­victed, then cleared, of charges in a po­lit­i­cal probe dur­ing the Gov. Marvin Man­del ad­min­is­tra­tion, died Satur­day at 86.

W. Dale Hess, a Har­ford County busi­ness­man who rose to ma­jor­ity floor leader in the Mary­land House of Del­e­gates and was later con­victed — then cleared — of charges in a fed­eral po­lit­i­cal probe dur­ing the Gov. Marvin Man­del ad­min­is­tra­tion, died of com­pli­ca­tions from cancer Satur­day at his Fall­ston home. He was 86.

He owned in­ter­ests in land, mo­tels, apart­ments and shop­ping cen­ters in Har­ford County, many along the In­ter­state 95 cor­ri­dor.

“My fa­ther helped get I-95 built as we know it through Har­ford County,” said his daugh­ter, Martha Schu­macher of Fall­ston, re­count­ing her fa­ther’s role in shap­ing the county.

Mr. Hess was con­victed of mail fraud and rack­e­teer­ing in 1977. A fed­eral Ap­peals Court later wiped out the charges — years after Mr. Hess was sen­tenced to three years in prison and served 18 months at the Maxwell Air Force Base fed­eral prison camp in Alabama.

Born in Har­ford County, he was a 1947 grad­u­ate of Bel Air High School. He ini­tially worked on a fam­ily dairy farm owned by his par­ents, St. Clair Hess and Anita Chen­worth. In the 1940s he was state pres­i­dent of Fu­ture Farm­ers of Amer­ica. He was later ac­tive in the Har­ford County Demo­cratic Club and the Har­ford County Real Es­tate Board.

He was a farmer when he en­tered the House of Del­e­gates.

“He was an in­flu­en­tial mem­ber of the Gen­eral As­sem­bly,” said for­mer U.S. At­tor­ney for Mary­land Ge­orge Beall.

“I had noth­ing but re­spect on his in­tegrity. He was man of his word,” said Mr. Beall. “He would tell you out­right if he could help [or] if he could not help. He would not vac­il­late. He was re­fresh­ing to deal with in that re­spect.”

A 1988 Bal­ti­more Sun ar­ti­cle de­scribed Mr. Hess as “a wide-chested man with clipped gray hair, the in­ter­minable smile of a busi­ness­man and a boom­ing, con­fi­dent voice.”

Mr. Hess was elected to the House of Del­e­gates in 1954, and later be­came a po­lit­i­cal ally of Mary­land gov­er­nors J. Mil­lard Tawes and Marvin Man­del.

Pa­trick Hess of Fall­ston re­called that his fa­ther had a leg­isla­tive role in the end­ing of seg­re­ga­tion in Mary­land.

“My fa­ther was in­stru­men­tal in bring­ing the forces in An­napo­lis to­gether,” said the younger Mr. Hess. “The western coun­ties were for de­seg­re­ga­tion, but the East­ern Shore wanted to keep seg­re­ga­tion. He brought the forces to­gether. He was al­ways very proud of this. He would talk to me about this years later.”

He was also known for a few mem­o­rable mal­a­prop­isms on the House floor. “He once said, ‘Let’s stop beat­ing a dead horse to death,’ ” noted a 1975 Sun ar­ti­cle.

In the early 1960s he and a cousin, Wil­liam Hess, be­gan buy­ing land on Fall­ston’s Green Road.

“They built houses, and that’s how it all started,” said his son. “He was part of the peo­ple who planned the route of I-95. He kept a pic­ture of him­self and Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy when they cut the rib­bon on the ex­press­way.”

“In 1962, as the Kennedy high­way was be­ing con­structed through the north­east­ern sec­tion of the state, Mr. Hess be­gan buy­ing key land parcels near the high­way’s in­ter­changes,” said the 1975 Sun ar­ti­cle. “By 1964, the Hess fam­ily held land at four of the six toll ex­its in Mary­land, to­tal­ing more than 1,000 acres.”

A Sun ar­ti­cle said that in 1964, Mr. Hess asked Mr. Man­del to join him in a Har­ford County land ven­ture. “It was the be­gin­ning of a per­sonal and busi­ness re­la­tion­ship that led to Gov­er­nor Man­del’s plight,” the ar­ti­cle stated.

In 1962, Mr. Hess be­came vice chair of the As­sem­bly’s Ways and Means Com­mit­tee un­der Mr. Man­del, then a del­e­gate who chaired the com­mit­tee. Mr. Hess be­came the Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity floor leader of the House of Del­e­gates and served in that ca­pac­ity for sev­eral years.

He left the House of Del­e­gates in 1970 and be­came a vice pres­i­dent of Tide­wa­ter In­sur­ance, in ad­di­tion to his other busi­ness in­ter­ests.

His le­gal prob­lems arose sev­eral years later. “On Aug. 23, 1977, the roof caved in on the son of a dairy farmer,” re­counted the 1988 Sun ar­ti­cle. “Mr. Hess and five oth­ers, in­clud­ing his then-close friend Marvin Man­del, were in­dicted on more than 20 counts of rack­e­teer­ing and mail fraud charges. All were con­victed. … The scan­dal re­volved around Mr. Hess and other co-de­fen­dants giving the gov­er­nor a se­cret share in their valu­able in­ter­est in prop­erty.”

Mr. Hess served his time in prison, then re­turned to his busi­ness in­ter­ests and brought in his chil­dren to con­tinue the real es­tate and devel­op­ment work he started.

“There were no win­ners. It was a hia­tus in my life, a numb­ing ex­pe­ri­ence,” he told The Sun in 1988 as he re­flected on his le­gal trou­bles. “I didn’t go back to Bal­ti­more for a long time.”

The ar­ti­cle also said, “When he emerged from jail, Mr. Hess spent time soul search­ing. … He says it was his fam­ily’s en­dur­ing be­lief in his in­no­cence that car­ried him through the tun­nel.”

In this pe­riod, Mr. Hess said, he was un­able to get fi­nan­cial back­ing from Mary­land banks.

He said he kept try­ing and even­tu­ally found a York, Pa., bank whose of­fi­cers said they didn’t care about his con­vic­tion as long as the num­bers worked.

In 1989, after a lengthy ap­peals process that in­cluded Mr. Man­del and the other co-de­fen­dants, the U.S. Supreme Court up­held an ear­lier fed­eral rul­ing clear­ing them all of the charges. Mr. Hess, who had lost his real es­tate li­cense, had it re­in­stated.

He was hired by landown­ers of Con­stant Friend­ship in Har­ford County to de­velop the large tract. He also owned Com­fort Inns and Best Western fran­chises in Ce­cil and Har­ford coun­ties and in Em­mits­burg.

His hold­ings in­cluded the Aberdeen shop­ping plaza and the War­wick apart­ments, as well as Denny’s restau­rant fran­chises and a Burger King on Route 24.

“I so en­joyed to work,” he told The Sun. “It’s a lot of fun to wheel and deal, and wheel­ing and deal­ing in land is what I’m good at.”

A fu­neral Mass will be of­fered at 10:30 a.m. Fri­day at St. John Ro­man Catholic Church, 13305 Long Green Pike in Hy­des.

In ad­di­tion to his son and daugh­ter, sur­vivors in­clude his wife of 67 years, the for­mer Marie Ritchie; two other sons, W. Dale Hess Jr. of Fall­ston and Phillip Hess of Braden­ton, Fla,; a brother, Ed­win Hess of Fall­ston; nine grand­chil­dren; and seven great-grand­chil­dren.

W. Dale Hess was a work­ing farmer when he be­came a state del­e­gate.

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