Probe of crime office expands to include UM program

Subpoena seeks records of drug research center

August 09, 2002|By Greg Garland and Michael Dresser | Greg Garland and Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

A federal investigation of a Maryland anti-crime office has widened its focus to include grants given to the Center for Substance Abuse Research, a program run from the University of Maryland, College Park.

A university spokesman said yesterday that a federal grand jury subpoena issued Tuesday sought records of grants the anti-crime group made to the university program.

"I know it [the subpoena] included CESAR," said George Cathcart, spokesman for the university.

The latest subpoena indicates that federal investigators are expanding their investigation of the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention - an agency overseen by Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

But the overall scope and focus of the investigation remained unclear yesterday.

Federal officials had issued a subpoena in April to a politically connected, nonprofit group from Prince George's County for records of a $503,000 grant it received from the state office in March 2001. The grant was for a program that targeted youths who had committed crimes.

A second subpoena was issued in early May to the crime control office, requesting records related to the grant.

A spokesman for Gov. Parris N. Glendening said yesterday that his office is not aware of any other agencies receiving subpoenas.

Eric D. Wish, executive director of the CESAR program, did not respond to telephone calls yesterday about the federal subpoena for records of grants to his program, and university officials would not release a copy of the document.

Cathcart said the state attorney general's office told university officials they should consult with the U.S. attorney's office before deciding whether to release the subpoena.

"Because this is a federal grand jury investigation, we are asking the U.S. attorney is there is any reason we should not release it," Cathcart said. "We're not saying we're not going to release it, we just feel under the circumstances, given the nature of this, we should go there first."

A list obtained from the state early this year shows that the university has received from the crime control office at least $6.6 million in grants since 1999. Of those, at least $4.6 million went to CESAR in amounts ranging from $19,232 to $1.7 million for statewide anti-crime projects.

Other large university beneficiaries included the Department of Criminology, which received at least $897,786, and a High Intensity Drug Traffic Area research program, which received at least $220,269.

Cathcart said he thinks federal investigators asked for records of grants made to those two programs.

The $1.7 million grant to CESAR covers five separate project areas, including operation of a substance abuse clearinghouse; providing support services through a Web site; and "special projects" undertaken by "staff detailed" to the crime control office.

The second-largest, worth almost $1.2 million, provides money for CESAR to support the work of an Underage Drinking Task Force, to maintain and upgrade the crime control office's computer system, and to monitor substance abuse in Maryland through a Townsend-backed initiative known as the Drug Early Warning System.

Michael Sarbanes, Townsend's deputy chief of staff for policy and the former director of the crime control office, praised the center's work.

"The Center for Substance Abuse Research has produced some of the nation's most innovative programs around monitoring drug trends and assuring effectiveness in drug treatment and prevention," Sarbanes said.

For some activities, CESAR operates through subcontractors, including Darnestown-based Carnevale Associates LLC, which received a $266,299 grant to help the state develop a performance management system for treatment providers.

John Carnevale, who operates the company, said neither he nor his company had received subpoenas. He said the university called him yesterday and asked him not to comment if contacted by reporters. He referred all other questions to the university.

Michael Morrill, Townsend's campaign spokesman, declined to comment on the most recent subpoena, first reported in yesterday's Washington Post.

Townsend, a Democrat who is running for governor, has called the investigation of the crime control office "political garbage."

Virginia B. Evans, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio's office, said the agency would not comment on the scope of the probe.

Last week, the U.S. attorney's office intervened after The Sun filed a request under Maryland's Public Records Act for a copy of the subpoena issued to the crime control office.

State officials said they were specifically asked by the U.S. attorney's office not to release the subpoena because "its release could hamper" a federal investigation.

Agency officials said they would withhold release of the subpoena for 10 days to give the U.S. attorney's office an opportunity to seek a court order to block the document's release.

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