Md. charges fund misuse by foundation State Games official is accused in suit asking receivership

December 18, 1990|By Eileen Canzian

A foundation designed to support amateur athletics in Maryland has misused hundreds of thousands of dollars in government funds, including money it apparently managed to divert from the state's budget for public health programs, state health officials have charged.

In documents filed in Howard County Circuit Court, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene accuses James Narron, former director of a program called the Maryland State Games, of repeatedly spending state money "for questionable, improper and potentially illegal purposes."

The documents suggest that Mr. Narron is at the center of a controversy that already has cost a deputy state health secretary his job and is the subject of a criminal investigation by the Maryland attorney gener

al's office.

Until recently, Mr. Narron had both a public and a private role in running the Maryland State Games, a competition held each summer for the past five years for amateur athletes from across the state.

With the support of state officials, Mr. Narron in 1985 set up a private, non-profit group, the Maryland State Games Foundation, to raise money to help pay for the games. Though he remained a director of the foundation, he subsequently was given a $53,000-a-year position in the state health department: executive director of the Maryland State Games.

Mr. Narron was dismissed from the state post last Tuesday because of concerns over the program's finances, sources have said. The court documents, filed Friday, were aimed at halting his ability to spend state money controlled by the private foundation.

In asking the court to appoint a receiver to take over the foundation's affairs, the health department said it had awarded more than $400,000 in grants to the foundation over the past two years. A recent investigation by health department auditors found that "the vast majority" of that money was improperly spent, the department said. It did not specify how the money was allegedly used.

The health department also charged that the foundation had somehow managed to gain access to and spend "large sums" of state and federal money from the department's budget for public health programs. Officials have refused to say how that could have happened or how the money allegedly was spent.

The department's request was granted by Howard Circuit Judge Cornelius F. Sybert Jr., who has appointed a receiver to take over the foundation's operations.

State Health Secretary Adele A. Wilzack refused to answer questions about the controversy yesterday, saying the department had outlined its concerns in the court documents. Last week, Ms. Wilzack dismissed one of her top aides, Deputy Secretary John Staubitz, who had been responsible for supervising Mr. Narron and the Maryland State Games.

Mr. Staubitz and Mr. Narron could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. confirmed last week that his criminal investigations unit was exploring allegations of financial impropriety in the State Games office, including its effort to bring Olympic activities to Maryland.

Besides running the State Games, Mr. Staubitz and Mr. Narron had organized Maryland's bid to host the U.S. Olympic Festival, an event sponsored by the U.S. Olympic Committee. Maryland is among five states vying for the festival, and a decision is expected early in February.

Don Porter, chairman of USOC Festival Committee and chairman of the site selection committee, said yesterday that he was not aware of the state attorney general's investigation and could not say if it would affect Maryland's bid for the festival.

"We want to know more about the situation. If there is a problem, we want to know," Mr. Porter said.

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