Pete Twardowicz: The Best There Ever Was


December 21, 1992|By TIM BAKER

Remember the movie ''Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid''? Remember how Paul Newman and Robert Redford robbed trains and cleverly eluded local sheriffs? Then the railroads hired a real pro to track them down. Butch and the Kid tried all of their old tricks. But nothing fooled the new man. Nothing threw him off their trail. They'd look back and see him coming after them and ask, ''Who is that guy?''

They'd switch horses and try to outwit him. But nothing worked. They'd look back and shake their heads. ''Who is that guy anyway?''

Since the 1960s, corrupt Maryland politicians and dishonest businessmen have looked over their shoulders and shaken their heads in dismay. Each of them could see a real pro stalking him. In most cases that guy on their trail was an Internal Revenue Service agent.

The terrain wasn't the rocky landscape of the American West. Instead I.R.S. agents tracked their prey through mountains of canceled checks, ledger books, and invoices. They used pencils rather than guns. When they surrounded a gang of thieves, they fired spread sheets rather than bullets.

In an economy dominated by credit cards, checks, and computers, financial crooks cannot help but leave some kind of a paper trail behind them whenever they pay off a public official or defraud a customer. But the clue to the crime lies buried in tons of records. Finding it requires a keener eye and a sharper mind than any frontier scout ever had.

Pete Twardowicz was the best there ever was. He had a rare talent, as beautiful to watch as Larry Bird shooting a basketball or Ted Williams lining a double off the wall in right center. Comparable ability in athletics would have earned Pete millions in professional sports. But money wasn't what motivated him; his gift lay in a field where even a star works at a cheap metal desk in a government agency.

Twardowicz's room was down the back hall in the United States Attorney's Office in Baltimore. We called it the War Room. It was long and narrow. Boxes and boxes of financial records lined the walls. Ashtrays and used coffee cups cluttered the tables. I.R.S. agents sat at the ancient desks and searched through thousands and thousands of documents. They made spread sheets to track the flow of funds.

I remember some hapless defense lawyer trying to cross-examine Twardowicz in one of the Baltimore County political corruption trials in the early 1970's. Every time the lawyer questioned a figure on one of Pete's spread sheets, out would come another one to back it up. Pete had over fifty of them in that case. The relentless numbers bore down on the public official seated at the defense table. They showed exactly how he'd spent hundreds of thousands of dollars more than he'd reported on his tax returns. The jurors listened, stonefaced, glaring at the defendant.

Twardowicz happily waited for the next question. He looked like such a nice man. His sandy hair was cut short. Laugh lines creased his lean and eager face. He answered respectfully. But watch out. This man was a minefield to cross-examine. He wouldn't simply answer yes or no. He'd turn to the jury and explain where the numbers had come from and how they proved the defendant was guilty. The young prosecutors trying the case with him just sat back and enjoyed the show.

In fact, Pete Twardowicz really was a nice man. Neither hostility nor self-righteousness fueled his pursuit of corruption in high places. He smiled easily and laughed often. He loved cards and golf, beer and crabs.

He was a Baltimore boy, even after he moved his family to Howard County. He grew up in Irvington. Son of a legendary sandlot coach. Went to St. Joe's monastery school and then Poly. Worked his way through Loyola College. After a hitch in the service, he joined the I.R.S. in 1961. Around 1970, his chief, Bob Browne, brought him over to the U.S. Attorney's office.

Twardowicz led the team of agents that caught Vice President Agnew, Governor Mandel, and others. When jealous petty bureaucrats in the I.R.S. forced him out in the late 1970s, the Justice Department allowed the U.S. Attorney to hire him as an in-house investigator, the only one in the country. Ironically, he continued to train I.R.S. agents assigned to federal grand jury investigations. He even trained young prosecutors.

He died suddenly two weeks ago, at the age of 55. Over 500 men and women crowded his funeral service. Prosecutors and agents with whom he'd worked. Defense lawyers who had tried to cross-examine him. Golfing buddies from the ''Polish Open'' he sponsored in Ocean City every year. Guys he played cards with. Guys he knew from fast-pitch softball. Guys he'd grown up with.

Those of us who knew him came because we loved our Polish Prince. But every Marylander owes this man a debt of gratitude. Cheerfully he spent his life and talent in the unremunerative but critical task of making our state a more decent place to live.

Remember Pete Twardowicz as the warm and exuberant man who led a proud team -- that cadre of skilled financial detectives in the U.S. Attorney's office. He trained many of them and worked with them all. Most of them came from the I.R.S. For the last 25 years they've logged long hard hours for modest pay and little recognition. But they've cleaned up this state.

Here are some of their names:

Marvin Kase, Bill Fox, Warren Harrison, B.J. Haines, Frank O'Brien, Henry Sauter, Howard Rosenstein, Stan Young, Bill Wampler, Charlie Bremmer, Don Bell, Jules Dorner, Don Temple, Paul Mitchell, Jim May, Pete Haspert, Mike Hammert, Woody Morris, George Trunk, Irwin Crandle, Joe Dengler, Don Semesky, Mike Fahey, Dick Bauer, Mike Reilly, Hugh Barnhart.

If you've taken a bribe or defrauded somebody, look back over your shoulder. One of Twardowicz's guys is on your trail.

Tim Baker's column appears on alternate Mondays.

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