Festival group cleared Probe focused on Rocky Gap event

January 29, 1992|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- The state prosecutor has cleared the group that operates the Rocky Gap Music Festival in Western Maryland of any criminal wrongdoing in its use of state funds.

In a confidential letter to a state legislator yesterday, Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli stated, "We have found no evidence of criminal conduct upon which to base a full criminal investigation."

The volunteer, non-profit Rocky Gap Foundation operates the annual three-day music festival at Rocky Gap State Park near Cumberland. Its president is Del. Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, who also is chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee.

The prosecutor came to his conclusion after conducting a preliminary inquiry into the foundation's finances and into questions about the possible commingling of state funds and election campaign dollars in 1990.

The probe was prompted by, among other things, questions about a $50,200 grant the state Department of Employment and Economic Development gave the foundation in 1989. State officials bypassed their usual grant application process because, they said, they needed more money to advertise the first festival in a hurry.

However, a state senator from Western Maryland questioned if the See PROBE, 2D, Col. 3 PROBE, from 1D

state accounted for the money properly. The senator, John J. Hafer, R-Allegany, also said state money may have been commingled with election funds spent by a Cumberland public relations firm that handled the campaigns of Mr. Taylor and others.

Mr. Taylor said yesterday he felt "completely vindicated" by the prosecutor's conclusions. The inquiry "was the worst thing I've ever gone through," he added.

The delegate did not mince words in a prepared statement about Mr. Hafer and the "unfounded accusations" against the Rocky Gap Foundation.

"Since this abhorrent and puzzling public witch hunt began at the initiation of State Sen. John J. Hafer, it has been the foundation's position that our community-based not-for-profit organization has operated solely to assist the economic promotion and redevelopment of Western Maryland."

Mr. Hafer, on the other hand, said he had no ax to grind with Mr. Taylor.

"It's not a vendetta. It's nothing more than saying the state's in bad shape financially and when they find money unaccounted for, you begin to wonder why," the senator said.

Mr. Hafer said he would reserve comment on the outcome of the prosecutor's inquiry until he reads the detailed report Mr. Montanarelli is preparing.

The prosecutor said he did not know when that report will be ready.

In a letter to Mr. Taylor, Mr. Montanarelli said: "I am taking the unusual approach of notifying all parties in advance of the report due to the foundation's need to negotiate contracts with performers for the 1992 festival. I understand that the threat of a criminal investigation could impede these negotiations."

Mr. Hafer said he has renewed his request for an audit of the state's Division of Tourism and Promotion, as part of his efforts for a public accounting of how the state and the Rocky Gap Foundation spent taxpayer money.

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