Inquiry targets Fort Meade Fraud, ecological violations alleged

July 29, 1993|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

The U.S. Army is investigating allegations of fraud, violations of federal environmental laws and unaccounted-for property at Fort Meade.

The Army's probe was requested last year by the Fort Meade garrison commander, now-retired Col. Kent D. Menser, and specifically deals with the base's Department of Public Works (DPW).

The allegations, made by civilian employees at the Odenton base, have prompted two members of Congress from Maryland to ask the Defense Department's inspector general to conduct a second, separate investigation.

This is the second time in two years that Army investigators have looked into allegations of mismanagement at Fort Meade.

The DPW, with a budget of $36 million and a work force of about 450 civilian employees, is one of the largest of six departments at Fort Meade.

It maintains buildings and grounds on the Army base and is responsible for the post's landfill and wastewater treatment plant.

Army investigators have completed an 800-page report, and a Fort Meade spokesman says the probe will continue.

According to a source at the base and a letter from Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes and Rep. Kweisi Mfume to the inspector general, the Army report contains more than 80 charges of fraud and mismanagement.

"We are concerned by both the scope and severity of these allegations and would urge you to initiate an immediate review of the activities of the Directorate of Public Works," the two lawmakers wrote.

Aides for both lawmakers said yesterday that the letter was a routine request that passes along information gleaned from interviews with several civilian employees.

"We have a long list of charges," said Charles Stek, an aide to Senator Sarbanes. "We have no idea whether they are correct or not."

Officials interviewed at Fort Meade would not detail specific allegations.

An investigator for the Army's Criminal Investigation Division at Fort Meade refused to comment on the probe.

Colonel Menser, who retired from the Army at the end of June, confirmed yesterday that he initiated the investigation last year but would not comment further. He referred questions to a spokesman at Fort Meade.

Army investigators started looking into possible fraud at Fort Meade two years ago, according to a Nov. 15, 1991, letter to Sen. Barbara Mikulski from the Department of the Army's Inspector General's Office.

An inventory completed in July 1991 discovered "deficiencies in the accountability system possibly involving millions of dollars," according to the letter.

Colonel Menser assembled a a 15- to 20-person team to assist a lieutenant colonel in the probe. The results of that investigation were not made public.

A source at Fort Meade who is familiar with the most recent report said it contains allegations ranging from illegal property 00 acquisition to racism to sexual harassment in the Department of Public Works.

Investigators also probed charges of a lack of accountability, improper hiring practices and "one man acting as a czar or dictator," said the source.

The letter from Senator Sarbanes and Representative Mfume, which was sent Tuesday, confirms that the two lawmakers heard many of the same charges as the Army investigators.

"These employees have documented charges of gross mismanagement, waste, fraud and abuse," the one-page letter says. "Specifically, they contend that on several occasions, thousands of dollars of equipment and property have been unaccounted for in the supply record and that acquisition and procurement documents have been forged or otherwise altered."

The lawmakers also wrote of alleged environmental abuses that could violate federal and state standards, including "the release of toxins and other hazardous materials into the natural environment" and that employees must handle the chemicals without protective gear.

Michael Sullivan, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment, said the Environmental Protection Agency inspected the installation in the fall of 1992.

He said the EPA's comprehensive review did not find anything seriously wrong. The only problems, he said, dealt with record-keeping or mislabeled drums.

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