John M. Staubitz Jr., former deputy Maryland health secretary, was declared a fugitive yesterday after he failed to appear for sentencing on a conspiracy conviction stemming from the State Games scandal.
Staubitz, who abruptly pleaded guilty in May after claiming that someone had tried to kill him, was to have been sentenced by Baltimore Circuit Judge Andre M. Davis. Judge Davis waited an hour before issuing an arrest warrant for the man who was once second-in-command of Maryland's $2-billion-a-year health department.
Prosecutors, who are seeking a two-year prison term and $30,000 restitution, say that Staubitz billed the state for such personal expenses as vacations, country club fees and an Ocean City condominium and lied to legislators deciding the future of the State Games program.
Some of the money he used for personal expenses allegedly came from funds allocated for the State Games program, an arm of the health department established to promote amateur athletics.
His lawyers said Staubitz was last seen by his family at 11 a.m. Sunday at his Catonsville home.
Deputies from the city sheriff's department began looking for Staubitz yesterday afternoon after they received an arrest warrant issued six hours earlier by Judge Davis.
David L. Deangelis, chief deputy sheriff, said Staubitz was driving his mother-in-law's car when he disappeared Sunday. He said deputies would begin their search at the fugitive's Catonsville home.
But he added, "He could be sitting in a 7-Eleven, drinking a cup of coffee, scared -- or worse."
Michael A. Zwaig, an assistant attorney general prosecuting the case, said members of his agency would continue their efforts to find Staubitz.
"We've checked out a number of places. We've called hospitals, we've called the morgue," Mr. Zwaig said. "We're going to contact some of the people he was close with."
"None of us can understand his lack of appearance," defense lawyer Stuart R. Berger told Judge Davis yesterday, suggesting that his client might have fallen victim to circumstances beyond his control.
Staubitz's parents and wife were in court, but they left without commenting.
Yesterday afternoon, several cars were parked outside the Staubitz home, the last house on a dead-end street.
A woman who identified herself as "a friend" answered the door and said the family had heard nothing from Mr. Staubitz and would have no comment. Recently, she said, he was "not acting himself" and was "disturbed" and "very quiet."
But a neighbor, who declined to give her name, said Mr. Staubitz had seemed his usual "upbeat, pleasant" self when she chatted with him as he mowed the lawn one day last week.
A gray-haired man whom a neighbor said was John Staubitz's father would not stop to talk as he left the house, got into a car and drove off. "Leave him alone," he called pleasantly through the car window to a reporter.
Asked if he was worried about his son, the man smiled and said, "Nah."
Yesterday's failure to appear for sentencing was the second unusual turn in Staubitz's criminal case.
On May 27, an hour before the
scheduled start of his trial, Mr. Staubitz unexpectedly pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit misconduct in office. He entered an "Alford plea," a guilty plea which allowed him to assert his innocence while acknowledging that the state had enough evidence to convict him.
The plea surprised prosecutors who had gone to court with a filing cabinet full of documents in preparation for a five-week trial.
Staubitz, who had maintained that he was innocent from the time that legislative auditors first revealed improprieties in the State Games program in 1990, had said he decided to forgo a trial after two bullets were fired through his car windows from the woods near his Catonsville home.
"It was an attempt on my life," Staubitz explained. "It led me to believe that someone did not want me to testify . . . because of what I know about the underpinnings of state government and who all is involved in a lot of this."
Police said damage to the car was consistent with his account, but no bullets were found.
In a sentencing memorandum filed in Circuit Court, prosecutors announced their intention to seek a five-year prison sentence, with all but two years suspended, and $30,063.27 in restitution.
Staubitz "made a mockery of his duties" in supervising the State Games program," stated the memorandum submitted by Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.
"At practically every turn, instead of exercising his duties with honesty and integrity, Staubitz responded with lies, misrepresentations, manipulations, perjury, subornation of perjury, forgery and fabrication."
In their own sentencing memo, defense lawyers asked the judge to sentence Staubitz to probation or, at the most, six months in jail. They said their client had been sufficiently punished by losing his job and being featured in unflattering press accounts.
The former director of the State Games, James E. Narron, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and cooperated with investigators. He is scheduled to be sentenced today.
The eighth annual State Games were conducted for four days starting last Thursday at various locations, including UMBC, DTC Towson State University, an Ellicott City bowling alley and a Severna Park racket ball club.