Gary's misplaced anger Anne Arundel County: Executive should be more concerned about bubbling jail scandal.

February 13, 1997

ANNE ARUNDEL County Executive John G. Gary should forget about suing County Auditor Teresa Sutherland. Rather, he should thank her for undercovering what could be an embarrassing scandal at the detention center. He should focus on getting to the bottom of the possible embezzlement of tens of thousands of county dollars.

Something is wrong with the jail accounts. From preliminary audit results, it appears that cash taken from inmates as they entered the prison system, intended to pay for their incidentals at the commissary, was not regularly deposited in a county bank account, as required. At least $10,000 is not where it should be. The amount may grow as the investigation proceeds.

Whether Ms. Sutherland overstepped her bounds by consulting with a fraud investigator on the state's attorney staff is immaterial at this point.

The more important matters are how much of the inmates' money was diverted from the proper channels, who was responsible and how long did supervisors at the jail ignore the problem. Also, why was a 1995 police investigation into the jail accounts abruptly halted?

The unexpected resignation of George Braxton, the detention center's deputy superintendent, suggests that he was aware of the problem. In fact, his refusal to grant Ms. Sutherland access to records prompted her consultation with the state's attorney's office. She hoped they could provide advice on how to obtain the information.

Under the county charter, Ms. Sutherland should have informed Mr. Gary of the irregularities she uncovered. But Mr. Gary seems more concerned with that breach than with the need for tight financial controls in all county departments. He is waging a counterproductive political squabble with County Council Chairwoman Diane Evans, who has defended Ms. Sutherland's actions.

The county has already been embarrassed by landfill employees who did not properly charge a hauler for trash his companies dumped. They are to be tried on charges that they cheated the county out of millions of dollars in landfill fees. Mr. Gary should be most concerned over an alleged repeat incident of supervisors who are derelict in their duties.

Pub Date: 2/13/97

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