Tolliver to head tax-law team

Ousted Arundel chief picked by Schaefer to lead inspectors

May 27, 1999|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,SUN STAFF

He's back on the beat. Larry W. Tolliver, veteran officer and political survivor extraordinaire, has returned to police duty of sorts with the help of his powerful patron, state comptroller and former Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

Tolliver, ousted in December as Anne Arundel County police chief, has been tapped by Schaefer -- the man who elevated him from gubernatorial bodyguard to state police superintendent -- to oversee beefed-up enforcement of tax laws.

And one of his first collars is on himself.

Schaefer, who just announced a crackdown on out-of-state furniture sales that evade Maryland's taxes, said yesterday that he wants Tolliver to supervise a staff of more than 40 inspectors trying to thwart cigarette bootlegging and other revenue dodges.

The comptroller hired the 53-year-old Annapolis resident on a 5 1/2-week contract that pays $1,429 a week while waiting for state Board of Public Works approval next month to create a permanent position for Tolliver.

Tolliver acknowledged yesterday, when asked by a reporter, that he and his wife had bought leather furniture over the Internet from North Carolina -- just the kind of transaction his staff is supposed to catch. After checking his household records, Tolliver said he had not paid the 5 percent use tax to the state and would bring in a check for more than $300 today.

"I wasn't familiar with it myself," he said of the law requiring Maryland residents to pay tax on out-of-state purchases.

Schae- fer said he picked Tolliver for the new enforcement job because of their experience together. "He's a natural," said Schaefer, who elevated Tolliver from chief of the gubernatorial security detail to superintendent of the 1,600-officer state police force in 1992.

"For the first time, we're really going to push compliance," Schaefer said of consolidating tax and license inspectors under Tolliver.

Tolliver retired in 1995 from the state police amid a sexual harassment scandal in which he was faulted for failing to act on allegations that female troopers were being tormented by male colleagues.

As chief, Tolliver also presided over a botched state police investigation of drug dealing on Baltimore's notorious Block. Despite a showy raid of the strip joints, charges against many of those arrested were dismissed because of alleged improprieties by undercover investigators and weak or improperly obtained evidence.

But his leadership of the state police caught the eye of John G. Gary, a Republican Anne Arundel delegate elected county executive in 1994. Gary hired Tolliver as a consultant, then chose him in 1997 as the first outsider to run the 842-officer county police force.

During nearly two years in the county post, Tolliver stressed "zero tolerance" for drugs and personally arrested one pot-smoking motorist he passed while on the way to an official function.

Gary praised Tolliver's crackdown on drugs in the county. But Tolliver wound up backing off his practice of seizing vehicles whose drivers or occupants had minor amounts of drugs, after criticism from civil liberties advocates.

Tolliver's final year as chief also was marred by political controversy, after the county ethics commission found that his boss, Gary, had abused his office by asking Tolliver to help him get police officers to pose with the county executive for photographs to be used in his re-election campaign.

Gary lost the election to Democrat Janet S. Owens, who promptly declared her intention to replace Tolliver, vowing "to emphasize honest and integrity in my administration."

Tolliver angrily denied he did anything wrong and accused Owens of employing a double standard, because she used photos of the county's unionized teachers in her campaign ads.

While head of the gubernatorial security detail, Tolliver demonstrated loyalty to officeholders and their friends beyond what the job required. He even took time off from work to help former governor Marvin Mandel move out of the governor's mansion.

Tolliver said Schaefer broached the tax enforcement job over breakfast recently, and he jumped at the chance to go back to work, even though he will still collect his state police pension -- nearly 59 percent of his salary as superintendent, which had risen to nearly $93,000 by the time he retired.

With Maryland's cigarette tax going up 30 cents a pack, Tolliver said, he expects his new job to require posting dragnets for bootleg smokes.

But as for tax-dodging furniture buyers, he said he won't take quite the tough-cop stance he did before.

"We're not out there locking people up," he said. "We're notifying them first."

Pub Date: 5/27/99

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