State to probe sheriff's office in Baltimore

Personnel officer to review handling of hiring, benefits

Friends, kin on payroll

Sheriff's hiring of wife, her paid sick leave questioned

May 11, 2000|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

The state prosecutor's office said yesterday that it will examine whether Baltimore Sheriff John W. Anderson violated any laws when his wife -- who was hired shortly before their marriage -- took about five months off on sick leave and received full pay.

At the same time, the state's top personnel official announced that her office plans to review the sheriff's office's hiring practices and handling of employee benefits, specifically sick leave.

The investigation plans come after an article in The Sun yesterday revealed that Anderson hired his girlfriend and future wife in 1998, and she was later paid in full for months of sick leave, though she had exhausted all her accrued sick time.

In addition, Donna Anderson worked part time but was paid for full-time work, according to city payroll records and legal documents.

The article also disclosed that six other friends, relatives or children of friends of Anderson and his chief deputy, G. Wayne Cox, are on the payroll, including the maid of honor at Anderson's wedding and the husband of his niece.

James I. Cabezas, chief investigator for state prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli's office, said yesterday that he will obtain a copy of an audit of the sheriff's office being done now by City Comptroller Joan Pratt and examine it to determine whether Anderson committed misconduct in office. Montanarelli's office investigates elected officials.

"At this time, we do not have a criminal investigation; however, we have arranged to get a copy of the audit," Cabezas said. "In matters such as this we would initially attempt to determine if the alleged conduct is in fact wrongful and if so, was it the result of innocent error or perhaps something more disturbing."

Andrea M. Fulton, executive director of state Personnel Services and Benefits, said: "There are a lot of allegations that have been raised, and right now we're looking into the matter."

Anderson, 53, maintains that he has done nothing wrong in his hiring or his handling of his wife's sick leave. He and his wife say three employees, who owe their jobs to the sheriff, voluntarily donated more than 120 sick days to Donna Anderson to cover her time off.

Anderson's lawyer, Frank D. Boston III, said yesterday the sheriff "had no comment at this time."

Pratt has been auditing the office for several weeks. Part of her examination is the apparent special treatment of Anderson's wife, which may have violated state personnel and ethics laws.

Pratt said yesterday she did not know when the audit would be complete. She said the audit was "broadening" but refused to provide details.

Anderson earns $64,000 a year and has been elected three times since being appointed sheriff in 1989. His 134 employees are based in the Circuit Court buildings on Calvert Street and are responsible for serving warrants, summonses and foreclosure notices, as well as providing security for all five city courthouses.

More than half the jobs are civil service positions with the state -- such as deputy sheriff -- that require employees to pass certain tests. There are about 45 patronage appointees -- such as secretaries and court security officers -- who serve "at the pleasure of" the sheriff. Basic requirements for a court security position are having a high school diploma or GED, and being a U.S. resident, Anderson said.

At issue for the state prosecutors is whether the sheriff personally benefited from how his wife's sick leave was arranged. With the donated days from employees who serve at the pleasure of the sheriff, Donna Anderson was able to receive her full $24,700 annual pay, so two full incomes continued to come into their home.

Anderson's involvement in securing the sick leave will be critical, Cabezas said, because prosecutors would have to show that he had a "corrupt motive" to convict him of misconduct in office.

Anderson's former chief deputy, David DeAngelis, said the sheriff told him in 1998, " `Do what you can do. I appreciate what you can do' " in discussing Donna Anderson's need for sick time because of back surgery. Anderson said he does not remember making that statement. If he did, it could mean he violated ethics and other laws.

The sheriff is a state elected official, but his budget is largely controlled by the city. Because his office has both city and state employees, it is considered a hybrid agency.

Fulton, the state personnel director, said she was concerned about transfers of sick leave from from a state employee to a city employee. "That can't happen," she said.

Anderson said DeAngelis, a state employee, told him he would give his sick days to Anderson's wife, a city worker.

DeAngelis denies that. He said that at first he planned to give her his sick time but then found out it was against the law. He said he told the sheriff and decided to let Donna Anderson borrow against her vacation time.

The sheriff later said he did not remember DeAngelis' telling him that. DeAngelis retired last year because of tensions between him and the sheriff.

In January, months after DeAngelis had left, a letter from Donna Anderson's supervisor was placed in office records. The letter said that the supervisor had overheard DeAngelis say two years ago that he would give her 39 sick days.

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