Employee accused of using Md. property in sales pitch

Man placed on leave pending investigation

January 26, 2001|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

A state social services worker in Baltimore County was placed on administrative leave yesterday while officials investigate allegations that he used his public agency's resources to solicit customers for a telephone service company.

The investigation involves allegations that Anthony Henderson used an office postage meter and the agency's envelopes to send out copies of a letter and promotional materials to potential customers. The mailing was intended to drum up business for the company, producing sales commissions for Henderson, according to a copy obtained by The Sun.

Barbara L. Gradet, director of the Baltimore County Department of Social Services, said she put Henderson on paid leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

Gradet said she was not aware of the material that was mailed until she was contacted by a reporter yesterday. She said she was "shocked and very alarmed" that her agency's taxpayer-funded resources might have been used for private gain.

"It's a very serious situation that we're investigating," Gradet said. "Any improper use of agency resources like this would be completely unacceptable."

Henderson, who makes $33,717 a year helping to determine Medicaid eligibility, did not return telephone calls yesterday. His mailing was promoting a company called Z-Tel Technologies Inc., of Tampa, Fla., which pays its agents $20 for each person they sign up, as well as commissions.

In a letter dated Jan. 12, Henderson encouraged residents to sign up for "a new, revolutionary and affordable telephone service." It was sent out with materials promoting Z-Tel's local and long-distance phone service, Internet access and other telecommunications services.

The letter included Henderson's signature, social service job title and office telephone number and was addressed, To: "All Maryland Residents, State of Maryland Medical Assistance Recipients/Non-Recipients."

Gradet said her agency has not been able to determine how many letters went out or whether the social service agency's client data base might have been tapped to develop a mailing list.

"It could have been three or it could have been 3,000," she said. "It's a very serious situation regardless of the number, from my perspective."

Gradet noted that the envelope obtained by The Sun had been addressed by hand and that a massive mailing was unlikely. "It was clearly not a mailing that was done with computer-generated labels," she said.

She said there is no way to determine at this point whether the names and addresses used for the mailing came out of her agency's data base of clients.

Gradet met with Henderson yesterday but said she could not comment on their conversation because of the confidentiality required in personnel matters.

She said Henderson has been a state employee since 1993 and has worked for DSS in Baltimore County since 1995.

Mark Johnson, secretary-treasurer at Z-Tel headquarters in Tampa, said the company's sales representatives are private contractors, not employees of the company.

"We certainly don't condone anything like this happening," Johnson said. "We don't want or need people doing anything unethical to sell our product."

Johnson said the company, launched in 1998, has about 265,000 subscribers in 15 states. It began operating in Maryland in September.

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