The state's former deputy health secretary, John M. Staubitz Jr., was charged yesterday with conspiracy and misconduct in office for a host of alleged improprieties while running the now-defunct Maryland State Games program.
In a five-count indictment handed down by a Baltimore grand jury, Mr. Staubitz is accused of misappropriating state funds, doing business with relatives, using his office for private gain, and obstructing a legislative investigation by forging and falsifying documents.
Former State Games Director James E. Narron was charged separately with a single count of conspiracy for alleged activities while heading the State Games program, an arm of the health department that was created to promote amateur athletics, ostensibly as a means of dissuading young people from using drugs.
Yesterday's charges, which followed a 10-month investigation by the state attorney general's office, were the first allegations of criminal wrongdoing stemming from the State Games scandal, which rocked state government late last year and led to the resignation of Health Secretary Adele A. Wilzack.
Legislative auditors reported in December that Mr. Narron had used state and federal funds for a litany of "questionable, extravagant and unsubstantiated expenses," including to finance a trip to Germany, rent Ocean City condominiums, write checks to himself and set up a fencing academy that immediately hired his wife.
The auditors also concluded that State Games officials had used government funds in a failed attempt to launch a sports clothing business, which was described as an effort to raise money for the sports program. And they found several instances in which relatives of Mr. Staubitz benefited from State Games spending.
The auditors specifically noted that the State Games office spent roughly $3,000 on a scholarship for a niece of Mr. Staubitz, which Mr. Narron had defended as a reward to her for volunteer work.
The auditors also found that the program spent roughly $53,000 to buy two cars and a van from Mr. Staubitz's father, a salesman at a local dealership. The auditors did not challenge the price paid for the vehicles, but said no records could be found to show why they were needed or how they were used.
Beyond the auditors' findings, an investigation by The Sun revealed other instances of questionable spending, including the use of $4,500 in government drug-abuse prevention money to hire the band for a "thank you" party Gov. William Donald Schaefer gave for his staff.
The Sun also found that top health department officials authorized thousands of dollars of state-financed travel to San Francisco, Las Vegas and Miami in connection with the amateur athletics program.
The vaguely worded documents filed in Baltimore Circuit Court yesterday do not make clear whether the criminal charges stem largely from allegations that have already been reported or involve new allegations of abuse.
Mr. Staubitz, 43, and Mr. Narron, 37, -- both of whom were fired by Ms. Wilzack in December when she was told of the auditors' findings --were notified of the charges through their lawyers, the attorney general's office said. The two men are scheduled to be arraigned Oct. 28.
Mr. Staubitz's lawyer, M. Albert Figinski, said his client would contest the charges. "He's going to plead 'not guilty,' and he's going to vigorously defend his case," Mr. Figinski said.
That Mr. Narron was charged with just one count -- and was charged in a criminal information filed by the attorney general's office, without involvement of the grand jury -- was noteworthy. Mr. Narron's attorney, Ira C. Cooke, confirmed last night that his client had entered an agreement with prosecutors, but declined to describe the agreement.
Mr. Staubitz's indictment raised the possibility of a trial in which Ms. Wilzack could be called to testify against the man who was once her most trusted deputy.
The former health secretary has said repeatedly that she did not know of the alleged financial abuses in the State Games program and that she felt both hurt and angry that top employees had apparently abused her trust.
Mr. Staubitz is charged specifically with four counts of misconduct in office -- a misdemeanor offense found in common law, not state statute -- and with one count of conspiracy to commit such misconduct.
While misdemeanors typically carry lesser sentences than felony offenses such as theft, prosecutors noted yesterday that there is no maximum penalty in the law for misconduct in office.