Man pleads guilty in school fraud attempt Manager at work site was conducting his own sting, his lawyer says

October 22, 1997|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

William L. Marcum had a novel explanation for his crime yesterday, as he pleaded guilty to trying to swindle the Baltimore County school system out of $25,000 for construction costs that did not exist.

His lawyer told Baltimore County Circuit Judge John G. Turnbull II that Marcum was actually "conducting his own sting operation" in December to catch a Baltimore roofing company he believed was doing shoddy work at Milford Mill Academy.

When lawyer Robert E. Donadio acknowledged his client accepted $5,000 in a sting operation set up by county police, he called Marcum "a country bumpkin" who never intended to defraud the county.

"He did a stupid thing. He didn't tell police," said Donadio after yesterday's hearing.

According to court records in the case, Marcum, a 42-year-old Millheim, Pa., resident, was working as a construction manager for county schools and overseeing the roof construction when he approached a principal of Alliance Roofing and Sheet Metal Inc. on Dec. 18.

Marcum suggested that the company submit a "change order" to its $900,000 roofing contract, pretending it had installed extra linear pipe inside the roof. The change order would have given Alliance an extra $25,000 -- of which $5,000 would have been kicked back to Marcum.

Marcum's plan prompted Alliance owners to call school officials. They called county police, who set up an undercover sting operation.

On Dec. 19, Alliance's president, David Cobb, wore a body wire as he handed Marcum $5,000 in cash outside Reisterstown Elementary School. As Marcum was leaving the school grounds, police arrested him and recovered the money.

Yesterday, Marcum pleaded guilty to soliciting a theft from county schools. Turnbull suspended a three-year sentence and gave Marcum three years' probation.

Under a plea agreement approved by the court, Marcum can ask for his sentence to be modified to probation before judgment in 18 months, allowing his record to be expunged.

Donadio said yesterday he plans to take documents to court at the probation hearing that allegedly will show school officials ignored Marcum's repeated complaints about "errors and omissions" in Alliance's work and that nothing was done to penalize the roofing company.

"He was so frustrated because of complaints to Baltimore County," said Donadio. He said Marcum decided to run his sting operation to show Alliance could "cheat Baltimore County."

Marcum never told police about his plans, acknowledged his lawyer.

Marcum claims that problems with Alliance's work included taking hot asphalt inside the building -- a fire hazard -- and allowing roof leaks during construction that damaged floors.

Cobb, Alliance's president, denied Marcum's claims yesterday and said he found Marcum's explanation for the crime "radical." Cobb said he had "no idea" that Marcum had made serious complaints about the company's work, which was completed three months ago.

"I would invite anybody to look at our work," he said. "We don't get paid if we don't do good work."

Donald I. Mohler, county schools spokesman, defended the school system's oversight of the construction project.

"We think the performance of our facilities division under the leadership of [chief engineer] Gene Neff has been exemplary," said Mohler.

Pub Date: 10/22/97

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