Fugitive nearly a month, former state official is arrested in Las Vegas Fling ends for Staubitz, who pleaded guilty in State Games scandal

August 24, 1992|By Jay Apperson and Joe Nawrozki

John M. Staubitz Jr., the former state health official who fled to avoid sentencing for skimming thousands of dollars in the State Games scandal, has been arrested in Las Vegas.

After nearly a month on the lam, Staubitz was in a Las Vegas jail cell today. The former deputy health secretary for the state was arrested Friday afternoon, minutes after checking into the Rio Suite and Casino.

Baltimore authorities telephoned police in Las Vegas after learning that Staubitz had reserved a hotel room there -- in his own name.

"We called to confirm his reservation as if we were him," Detective Sgt. George Cunningham, the city sheriff department's chief investigator on the case, said today. "If he hadn't been arrested Friday, he was scheduled to tee off Saturday morning at the Dunes Country Club."

After a brief fling in the fast lane of casinos, country clubs and first-class airplane travel, Staubitz now faces extradition back to Maryland.

Before he fled the state, Staubitz claimed that his life had been threatened and that shots were fired at his car. But police said no bullets were found.

Staubitz, 44, has been a fugitive since July 27, when he failed to appear for sentencing for conspiracy to commit misconduct in office.

Prosecutors are seeking a two-year prison term and $30,000 in restitution from Staubitz, who they say inappropriately billed the state for vacation trips, country club fees and an Ocean City condominium.

Michael A. Zwaig, an assistant attorney general, would not say whether prosecutors would amend their sentencing recommendation. He said Staubitz has exposed himself to a criminal charge of contempt of court, but he identified a more likely fall-out from the month on the road.

"It's inconceivable to me the judge will not take into account his action," Mr. Zwaig said.

James F. Narron, the former State Games director, has entered a guilty plea and was scheduled to testify against Staubitz before the latter's guilty plea.

Sergeant Cunningham said Staubitz apparently left the Baltimore area the night before his sentencing, ditching his mother-in-law's car at a Catonsville diner and then driving with a friend to North Carolina, where he has relatives.

He then drove with a family member to Arizona, where he has more relatives, the investigator said.

Staubitz flew into Baltimore-Washington International Airport on Aug. 10 at a cost of $433, one way, but authorities received a tip too late to arrest him then, Sergeant Cunningham said.

Investigators from the sheriff's office followed a trail of hotel receipts and airline ticket purchases to the Rio, where Staubitz had stayed. He also had stayed at the Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas.

Neither Mr. Zwaig nor Sergeant Cunningham could say whether Staubitz gambled while in Las Vegas. Evidence developed against Staubitz included testimony that during a government-financed trip to Las Vegas in 1989, Staubitz gambled and played golf and did not conduct any state business. Staubitz also used $2,000 in state drug-abuse-prevention funds to finance gambling during a 1990 trip to Miami, authorities have said.

After learning that check-in time at the Rio was 3 p.m., the city sheriff's department sent Las Vegas police information and a photograph of Staubitz. The police went to Staubitz's room around 3:30 p.m. and arrested him without incident.

"At that point he gave up. The game was up," Sheriff John W. Anderson said today.

The sheriff said Staubitz could be returned to Baltimore within a few days if he chooses not to fight extradition. A warrant issued by Baltimore Circuit Judge Andre M. Davis orders Staubitz to be held without bond pending sentencing.

Documents filed by the attorney general's office showed numerous allegations of impropriety. Among them:

* Staubitz set up a company to buy sweat suits and other goods, then sold those goods to the State Games program -- at a profit and without competitive bidding -- while concealing his role in the firm.

The company, East West Promotions, was purportedly run by Staubitz's sister and mother. But court documents allege his relatives would have testified they had nothing to do with the business and that they signed papers only at Staubitz's direction.

* The State Games program purchased thousands of dollars' worth of "glow sticks" and sold them in Ocean City and at the Maryland State Fair, supposedly to raise money for the program. While investigators found that stick sales reached nearly $40,000, only $10,000 was deposited in a State Games bank account.

Mr. Staubitz was said to have received cash directly from those sales, former employees were to have testified.

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