74-year-old Fired Over Theft Charge

County Rehab Specialist Faces Hearing On Bid-rigging Tomorrow

December 05, 1991|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,Staff writer

A county housing rehabilitation specialist has been fired after he was charged in a bid-rigging scheme and embezzling federal housing funds, county police said.

William Lawrence Murphy, 74, who worked inthe county Office of Planning and Zoning, could face up to 15 years in prison and $5,000 in fines if he is convicted of felony theft, bribery and extortion. He is scheduled for a hearing tomorrow in Glen Burnie District Court.

Murphy of the 4900 block Brookwood Avenue in Brooklyn was arrested Nov. 5 after police tapped the phones in his office and witnessed adeal with a contractor in a Glen Burnie parking lot, police spokesman Officer V. Richard Molloy said.

Molloy said intelligence officers were tipped off by the planning and zoning office.

Murphy, who helped lower-income families secure low-interest loans and grants to fix up their homes, met with a contractor Nov. 5 in the parking lot ofAnne's Dairy Creme on Ritchie Highway, charging documents say.

During the meeting, Murphy got a $300 kickback from $832.75that was overestimated on a housing job on Donaldson Avenue in Severn, the documents said.

Murphy overestimated the cost of replacing floor joists,roofing, siding and overhanging rafters and conspired with the contractors who received the overage, the documents said.

The contractors have not been charged and the investigation is continuing, Molloy said.

Molloy said Murphy admitted to overestimating jobs "five or six times in the last couple of years."

Murphy was fired from the $37,747-a-year job he had held for 14 years on Nov. 8, said Kathleen Koch, assistant planning and zoning officer.

The county uses federal Community Development Block grants for low-interest loans and grants to renovate older properties.

After visiting a property and talking with the owner, the rehab specialist writes up a contract outlining the scope of work. Notices then are sent to 42 contractors in thecounty inviting them to bid on the rehab job. Once a contract is awarded, the specialist monitors the improvements and can authorize changes for additional work, such as termite damage.

Murphy bilked theprogram by increasing those change orders, the charging documents said.

"The way it was done, the only way you could have caught it was if you had gone out and done the work yourself," Koch said. "If youdo a change order and say there's extensive termite damage, for example, the only way you could find out there wasn't was if you went andpulled down the wall afterwards."

The contractor's bid must be within 10 percent of the rehab specialist's estimate, she said. The homeowner selects the contractor, and the specialist supervises the work. When the renovations are completed, a supervisor must sign off on it.

HUD conducts an annual audit of the program, and the county Office of Planning and Zoning runs yearly monitoring reviews. But neither discovered problems with Murphy's work earlier.

But the agency is studying whether additional checks and balances should be included to prevent theft, Koch said. "We are studying the whole process to see what we could do to help it from not happening again. But it appears this would have been difficult to catch."

Staff writers JoAnna Daemmrich and Ann Lolordo contributed to this story.

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