Auditor threatened with suit Evans says Gary issued warning at meeting in January

"Ridiculous," executive says

County official found evidence of money missing from jail

February 11, 1997|By Scott Wilson | Scott Wilson,SUN STAFF

County Executive John G. Gary has threatened to file charges against County Auditor Teresa Sutherland over a financial review that has uncovered evidence of missing money at the Anne Arundel Detention Center.

Councilwoman Diane R. Evans, a Republican who chairs the council, said yesterday that Gary threatened to "sue" Sutherland during a late January meeting attended by Chief of Staff Samuel F. Minnitte.

Sutherland works for the council, not Gary.

"That was a direct threat, made through me," Evans said.

In addition, Evans said, high-ranking administration officials have threatened to fire Sutherland's husband, Ralph, a building inspector in the county's Planning and Code Enforcement office, over an audit that Gary has said violated the county charter.

"It's part of the county executive trying to subordinate the council -- to muzzle the council -- to his wishes," Evans said. "Right now I am fighting to maintain the independence of this council and staff."

Her comments came amid mounting tension over what started as a routine audit of the Anne Arundel Detention Center in June.

They also signify friction between the two Republicans who hold the county's most powerful offices.

Gary dismissed the alleged threat of retribution against Ralph Sutherland as "ridiculous" but did not back away from his legal threat against Teresa Sutherland.

"This is not the first time she has violated the charter," said Lisa Ritter, Gary's spokeswoman. "If it occurred again, he said he would seek corrective action, up to and including prosecution."

Last year, Sutherland and Evans sought opinions from the county state's attorney's office and the Maryland attorney general's office after discovering a $10,000 county payment to Annapolis attorney John R. Greiber.

Gary had paid Greiber and private investigator Kevin Keane to investigate events surrounding a controversial 1989 pension bill. Greiber received the money while representing the Anne Arundel Taxpayer's Association in a lawsuit filed against the county over the same pension issue.

Neither department found any wrongdoing.

But until now, the Gary-Evans rivalry had been played out in private.

In December, Evans fended off a behind-the-scenes threat to her chairmanship engineered by Gary and two top aides.

Councilman William C. Mulford II, an Annapolis Republican, was Gary's choice to head the seven-member council.

In the end, Evans received unanimous council support for a second year as its leader.

"I believe part of the reason why John Gary wanted to get rid of me was that if he had four votes to get rid of me, then he had four votes to get rid of Teresa," Evans said.

Last month, Sutherland took from the jail on Jennifer Road records spanning July 1995 through December 1996. She is comparing county bank deposits over that time with cash-receipt books, which account for money received from inmates for use at the prison commissary.

Records that would account for $10,000 in bank deposits are missing for a three-month period -- including for a time after the abrupt halt to a 1995 police investigation into the matter. A new internal-affairs investigation has started.

"I don't know what happened in 1995, but I find it incredibly odd," Evans said. "Things fell apart."

The amount of money missing could grow as the audit advances or disappear if paperwork turns up to explain what now seems to be a loss.

If the money never reached the county's bank account -- disappearing instead into the pockets of jail personnel -- Anne Arundel taxpayers may have been helping pay for inmate toiletries, snacks and underwear over the last 18 months, possibly longer.

But now the battle is over Sutherland and the role of county auditor, a fiscal watchdog required by county law.

At Evans' request, Mulford, an attorney, drafted a letter yesterday to County Attorney Phillip F. Scheibe asking for an explanation of a county charter section titled "Duties of County Auditor."

The charter states that the auditor "shall promptly call to the attention of the County Council and the County Executive any irregularity or improper procedure which he may, from time to time, discover and to take exception to such practices, and it shall be the duty of the County Executive to cause corrective action to be taken promptly."

Gary has said that Sutherland, who would not comment for this article, overreached by meeting with investigators from the Anne Arundel state's attorney's office. Evans said Sutherland met with Gordon March and Jack Czarnecki, a former Internal Revenue Service investigator who specializes in fraud, because administration officials stonewalled her quest for jail records.

Jail Superintendent Richard Baker has explained the delay as sloppy bookkeeping.

The paperwork occupies two rooms in a county building in Crownsville. Baker has not found much of what Sutherland has requested.

Gary also has said that Sutherland violated the charter by not notifying him of her initial findings. He said he did not hear about the audit until his top aide, Chief Administrative Officer Robert J. Dvorak, received a call from Baker about Sutherland's requests.

"You can imagine [Gary] was very upset that not only did she not have findings, but that she was bringing the possibility of jTC findings to the state's attorney," Ritter said. "It was not only inappropriate, but a violation of her duties under the charter."

Evans disagreed, saying of Sutherland, "I have made it clear that I have full faith in her and full confidence in her ability. She got the best advice possible."

Pub Date: 2/11/97

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