Ex-corrections manager plans to plead guilty, lawyer says

State official is accused of using position to extort $40,000 from 2 companies

October 10, 2002|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

A former state corrections manager, indicted on a federal extortion charge in connection with the troubled, years-long effort to renovate Maryland's oldest mental hospital, plans to plead guilty, his lawyer said yesterday.

Leon E. McGee Jr., 65, of Randallstown was charged Tuesday in a one-count indictment with using his state government position to extort more than $40,000 from two construction companies awarded contracts for renovation work at Spring Grove Hospital Center in Catonsville.

"He's taking responsibility for what he did, and he's taking steps to try to put this behind him," said attorney Arthur M. Frank of Baltimore.

Frank said he had been involved in negotiations with Assistant U.S. Attorney Dale P. Kelberman, who is prosecuting the case, and that McGee is expected to plead guilty this month.

A plea deal would offer a speedy resolution to the only criminal case to grow out of the Spring Grove project - what began as a modest, $2.5 million renovation designed to save the state money by putting inmates to work, but ended up costing taxpayers at least $6.7 million.

A report released last year by the Maryland Office of Legislative Audits found that employees at Spring Grove steered millions of dollars in no-bid renovation work to State Use Industries, the program designed to give inmates skilled-labor training.

But auditors found that the prisoners did virtually no work. Instead, State Use Industries kept a 10 percent administrative fee, then farmed the work out to a small number of construction companies.

The critical audit reports prompted FBI investigators to launch a criminal probe.

McGee, manager on most of the State Use construction jobs, was fired in December 2000 after investigators found he was using inmate labor and materials from state building projects to make improvements at his home.

McGee has previously said that he did nothing wrong and had retired from the agency.

The indictment, filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, alleges that McGee extorted money between 1997 and 2000 from two companies connected to the Spring Grove project - T&M Fencing and Paving in Baltimore and National Glass and Mirror Inc. in Middle River.

After the audit report, Paul Kotula, a deputy superintendent at Spring Grove, was transferred. In addition to McGee, two other corrections employees were fired.

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