New subpoena is issued for state office of crime control

Records sought for work said to benefit Townsend

August 15, 2002|By Greg Garland and Michael Dresser | Greg Garland and Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

A federal grand jury issued a new subpoena yesterday to the state anti-crime office for records of the work done by a former employee who said publicly this week that she was assigned to do a research project to benefit Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's campaign for governor.

The claims made by Margaret T. Burns, former communications director of the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, have been sharply disputed by past and present Townsend aides.

The GOCCP is an agency overseen by Townsend, who is expected to face a close gubernatorial race against Republican Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

The latest subpoena asked for records of any database of grant information that Burns compiled or used while at the crime control office or the University of Maryland, College Park.

Burns is among more than 30 people who were listed on a previous subpoena that sought records of those paid under grants awarded to UM.

University officials said they hired the workers at the request of the crime control office but had no supervisory authority over them.

The employees reported to supervisors at the GOCCP.

Stephen P. Amos, the agency's director, said the hiring arrangement was allowable under federal guidelines and was a "cost-effective" way to staff and manage the office.

Project called political

Yesterday's subpoena was issued one day after Burns told reporters that Townsend's top aide, Alan Fleischmann, assigned her in January last year to compile the grants database. She said she regarded the project as political in nature.

"I was told I was really the only one that could prepare the kind of database that was needed for this project," Burns said.

She described the data as a compilation of Townsend's accomplishments through the crime-control agency.

Burns, who is now spokeswoman for the Baltimore state's attorney's office, said the work involved going through all news releases, grants and newspaper clippings relating to projects funded through the agency.

She said yesterday that she has not been interviewed by federal agents or subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury.

Federal authorities appear to be investigating whether state employees were used to improperly support Townsend's political activities.

Fleischmann and Amos say that the project to which Burns was assigned was needed for the office and that it had nothing to do with politics.

Another ex-aide's view

A former top-level aide to Townsend said Burns told him early last year that the project was essential to the operations of the office.

Adam Gelb, Townsend's chief adviser on crime issues until he left her staff in 2000, said he talked with Burns twice during the months she compiled the data.

He said that they discussed her project on both occasions and that she never raised concerns it was politically driven or inappropriate.

"The way she described it to me, it was an essential project for the efficient functioning of that office," Gelb said.

`Clearly stung'

The former adviser, who now heads a sentencing commission for the governor of Georgia, said Burns expressed unhappiness with losing her post as GOCCP's spokeswoman.

"She was clearly stung by her reassignment from the very public role she had in dealing with the press," Gelb said.

According to Gelb, the crime control office had long needed to compile its grant information in a central database.

A copy of the database Burns compiled was not immediately available at the crime control office yesterday.

"We're in the process of retrieving that information from our archives and need to give the attorney general's office ample opportunity to review the material before it is released publicly," said Robert Weinhold, a GOCCP spokesman.

Reason unclear

It was not clear yesterday why federal authorities issued the latest subpoena specifically requesting the database records. In a previous subpoena, the grand jury sought a variety of records for 37 employees of the crime control office, including records of the work they produced.

Michael A. DiPietro, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, had no comment on why the new subpoena was issued yesterday.

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