Memo advises on anti-crime agency grants

Questions raised about oversight compliance

September 26, 2002|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

The Maryland attorney general's office has generally found nothing wrong with a state anti-crime agency hiring staffers through federal grants given to the University of Maryland, according to a memo from the office.

But the detailed, 31-page memo, released yesterday, raises questions of whether the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention is properly meeting all state and federal reporting and oversight requirements.

The memo, written by Assistant Attorney General Robert N. McDonald, came in response to a request from Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who oversees the work of the agency.

She sought the attorney general's advice in reaction to a highly publicized and continuing federal investigation - a probe that is focusing in part on what work was done by employees hired through the university, according to sources and records of documents sought through subpoenas.

McDonald, in a Sept. 10 memo to Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., wrote that state and federal law does not prohibit the crime control office from "initiating a transfer of [grant] funds to the university, defining the work to be done with those funds or designating the individual who would perform the work."

However, he cautioned that such transactions could be characterized under state law as a "services contract rather than a grant." That would trigger certain reporting and oversight requirements, he wrote.

As an example, McDonald wrote, it could mean that state government procurement laws would have to be followed in obtaining goods or services. The crime control office might also be required to follow restrictions the General Assembly sets on hiring employees.

He also raised questions about whether grant funds were used to offset the "general costs" of state government, which is generally prohibited by federal budget rules.

"Such costs are defined to include salaries and expenses of the office of the governor of a state, the chief executive of a political subdivision, a state or local legislative body, or the judiciary, among other things," McDonald wrote.

The memo also suggests that dealings between the crime control office and university have been handled loosely. "The overall arrangement between [the crime control office] and university entities was handled informally, although elements of it were, on occasion, reduced to writing," he wrote.

Michael Sarbanes, Townsend's deputy chief of staff and the former executive director of the crime control office, released the document after repeated requests from The Sun.

When asked Tuesday for the response that the attorney general's office had provided to Townsend, he provided a one-page summary. That summary raised no questions about whether the crime control office was meeting state and federal reporting and oversight requirements.

Sarbanes said he did not have immediate access to McDonald's memo and suggested that it was "incomplete" because Townsend's office had questions about some of the issues raised. He released the memo late yesterday afternoon.

Sarbanes said the response by the attorney general's office, in effect, found that the crime control office's partnership with the university is an "acceptable" way of doing business.

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