Federal grand jury seeks records of work from anti-crime office

Subpoenaed files outline 36 Md. employees' duties

August 21, 2002|By Gail Gibson and Michael Dresser | Gail Gibson and Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Federal authorities investigating a Maryland anti-crime office overseen by Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend are trying to determine not only whether federal funds improperly paid employees to do political tasks but also whether money went to employees who did no work at all, sources said.

So far, there is little evidence that federal crime-fighting grants paid for employees who had no duties or were not required to report to the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention. But agency officials were ordered to turn over to a grand jury today copies of all work produced by more than 30 current and former agency employees.

A federal subpoena issued by the grand jury demanded all work produced by nearly half of the agency's professional staff, including "correspondence, reports and memoranda." Those records could help investigators determine how and why agency employees were hired and what work they did.

Among the three dozen individuals whose work and personnel files have been subpoenaed are a former agency worker who now is a top aide in Townsend's Democratic campaign for governor and another worker who is on unpaid leave as he runs for state's attorney in Queen Anne's County. Although the men frequently worked away from the office, they said yesterday that they were putting in long days in state service.

The chief spokesman for the crime control office said yesterday that the agency's employees all had specific assignments and clear duties. Robert Weinhold, director of public affairs, policy and research, also said he had no information about investigators looking for "ghost employees" paid under federal grants awarded through the University of Maryland.

"I have not heard that term," Weinhold said. "I know what the parameters of the subpoenas have been, but in terms of what federal investigators are specifically reviewing, that should be a question directed to them."

U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio has declined to comment on the investigation, as have others in his office and officials with the FBI's Baltimore field office.

The probe has come to light as Townsend, a Democrat, enters the final months of a close gubernatorial race in which she is expected to face Republican Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who recommended DiBiagio for his post last year.

Townsend has called the probe "political garbage" and has praised the crime-control office as helping reduce crime by historic levels in Maryland.

The probe of the office dates back to at least April, when federal officials subpoenaed a nonprofit group in Prince George's County for records of a $503,000 grant it received from the state office last year. More recent subpoenas, however, show that federal authorities are taking a broad look at the crime-control office, which in recent years has been marked by a steadily growing budget and staff.

The agency's executive director, Stephen P. Amos, has defended the agency's hiring practices and said he is confident that federal authorities will find no wrongdoing. Amos has retained a prominent Baltimore defense attorney, a move he has described as routine seeking of legal advice.

Gregg L. Bernstein, a former federal prosecutor who has represented a number of high-profile white-collar criminal defendants, said yesterday that he is representing Amos in the probe. Bernstein said Amos had not been asked to testify before the federal panel but declined to comment further.

"Just let the investigation run the course, and I think any concerns the U.S. attorney has will be resolved," Bernstein said.

One former employee who has previously said federal grant money was used to pay her to do political research that would benefit Townsend's campaign said she was interviewed at length yesterday by federal investigators.

The employee, Margaret T. Burns, said investigators questioned her about the scope of her employment, the working environment and other personnel issues. Burns said she was told that she, along with other witnesses, likely would be asked to testify before a grand jury.

Asked whether she had obtained an attorney, Burns said she was told by investigators that was not necessary.

Sources familiar with the probe say one thing investigators are examining is whether any employees were paid for work that was unnecessary or never done. But interviews with agency officials and former employees suggest that though many of the agency's employees worked from home or during odd hours, they were completing crime-fighting assignments.

William Mann, now a top aide in Townsend's gubernatorial campaign, said he was on the agency's payroll for a few months in 1999 before joining the lieutenant governor's staff. Mann said he earned about $10 an hour tracking administration-supported crime bills as they made their way through the legislature.

"I was the low man on the totem pole," said Mann, who said he previously worked as a White House speechwriter under former President Bill Clinton.

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