Jail official resigns amid audit, probe Departure coincides with a review of bookkeeping records

'I don't know why he left'

Investigators examine inmate cash deposits at Detention Center

February 12, 1997|By Scott Wilson | Scott Wilson,SUN STAFF

George Braxton, the Anne Arundel County Detention Center's deputy superintendent responsible for the commissary and bookkeeping, has resigned abruptly as a financial audit and police investigation dig into the departments he supervised.

Braxton told Superintendent Richard Baker late last week that he was leaving his $61,204-a-year post immediately.

"He decided to resign," Baker said. "I don't know if he'll reconsider."

Braxton's sudden departure coincided with County Auditor Teresa Sutherland's review of jail bookkeeping from June 1995 through December 1996.

Sutherland is trying to determine whether cash that inmates deposited for use at the commissary reached Anne Arundel's bank accounts. Deposit slips are missing for three months, which could mean that $10,000 disappeared into the pockets of jail workers.

The amount of money could grow as the audit proceeds or shrink if paperwork is found explaining what appears to be missing money. At County Executive John G. Gary's request, an internal-affairs investigation is looking into potential criminal misconduct involving jail personnel, specifically staff members who handle inmate cash.

Braxton could not be reached for comment yesterday.

"I don't know why he left," said County Attorney Phillip F. Scheibe. "But it certainly leaves a sour taste in your mouth, doesn't it?"

Gary administration officials had little to say yesterday about Braxton's resignation. County Council members had not been informed of it, nor had Sutherland.

Baker said the timing of the departure was a coincidence.

Last month, Braxton blocked Sutherland from collecting records for the audit. She is trying to match cash receipt books that detention center staff members kept against deposit slips that are supposed to chart the flow of cash into the county's bank.

Braxton told Sutherland at the time the review would be performed internally.

Soon afterward, Sutherland sought advice from the state's attorney's top fraud investigator, Jack Czarnecki, on how to proceed without the documents. Gary has accused Sutherland of violating the county charter by going to the state's attorney's office without informing him.

The records, kept in two rooms at a county building in Crownsville, are accessible to Braxton and the commissary staff. Fearing evidence of possible fraud could be destroyed, Czarnecki told Sutherland to get the boxes as soon as possible. She did, with Baker's permission, and took them late last month.

What began as a routine audit in June has mushroomed into a political battle involving the county's two top Republicans and the rest of the council.

Diane R. Evans, the council's Republican chairwoman, accused Gary in an interview Monday of engineering a campaign to topple her from her post. By extension, she said, Gary was trying to fire Sutherland, who works for the council outside Gary's authority.

Lisa Ritter, Gary's spokeswoman, said yesterday the county executive did not lobby for new council leadership in December.

"If anybody else up here did, they didn't do it with John's approval," she said.

Instead, council sources said, Republicans William C. Mulford II and John J. Klocko III and Democrat Thomas W. Redmond challenged Evans.

Mulford was the coalition's initial choice for chairman, but at the last minute, they settled on Democrat George F. Bachman to secure his vote. Two hours before the scheduled vote, Mulford and Klocko decided they could not support a Democratic leader for a Republican-majority council.

Evans prevailed in a unanimous ballot.

Several council members raised questions yesterday about Sutherland's visit to the state's attorney's office and Evans' comments. Council members also have complained that Sutherland and Evans did not inform them of the audit's initial findings.

"This is the problem that some of the council members wanted to change, that is the lack of communication between council members," Redmond said.

Mulford has written to Scheibe on behalf of the council to ask how to proceed with the audit and what to do with potential criminal findings. The charter says the auditor must notify the county executive and the council of any "irregularities" an audit turns up.

"I'm not pleased with the way this was handled," Mulford said. "I take great issue with the comment that this is some kind of plan masterminded by John Gary to fire the county auditor. He doesn't have that kind of authority."

Pub Date: 2/12/97

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