U.S. gets copy of city police fund audit

Federal prosecutors ask for information on Norris' off-the-books expenses

February 27, 2003|By Del Quentin Wilber and Gail Gibson | Del Quentin Wilber and Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

Federal prosecutors have requested and obtained a copy of an independent audit that examined the use of an off-the-books expense account by former Baltimore Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris, city officials said yesterday.

City Finance Director Peggy Watson said an investigator in the office of U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio came to her office Tuesday morning and requested a copy of the audit. She had the audit hand-delivered to the investigator, whom she would not name, that afternoon.

"He asked if he could have a copy of it," Watson said. "I had it delivered. ... I don't know what's going on."

DiBiagio could not be reached for comment. Norris declined to comment through a spokesman.

Mayor Martin O'Malley said last night that he was aware that federal authorities had requested a copy of the report. But he said he did not know why investigators did so.

"We were surprised, after all the time that had passed, that they were interested in it now," O'Malley said. "I assumed they kind of looked it over when it was all breaking to see if they had any jurisdiction."

O'Malley said he had not requested a federal review of the audit's findings or the fund's use.

DiBiagio, who worked closely with Norris, had indicated last year that his office was unlikely to investigate how the police fund was used.

The move by DiBiagio's investigator occurs nearly three months after the audit by Ernst & Young was completed. The audit found that Norris and his staff spent $5,522 on personal or questionable purchases, including money for hotel stays, expensive meals and other items.

City officials later deducted $7,668 from Norris' $137,000 severance package when he left the city force in December to join the Maryland State Police as superintendent.

Norris defended his use of the account, which was originally intended as a charity fund, and profusely apologized for his actions.

The Sun reported the account's existence in August, and Mayor Martin O'Malley hired Ernst & Young to conduct the audit after other city leaders began calling for an independent examination of Norris' spending.

The account financed, among other items: $2,070 for Orioles tickets, sweat shirts, souvenirs and food at baseball games for Norris and his inner circle, including his former colleagues in the New York City Police Department and other "friends of the department," among them a friend of Norris' who manages a steakhouse in New York.

Norris and his aides spent nearly $2,500 at the steakhouse, though it is impossible to tell who attended the meals or when they occurred -- Norris and his officers submitted receipts that only noted the cost of the meals in handwritten notes.

At least 30 times, Norris and his aides submitted receipt stubs -- totaling about $4,700 -- that did not identify the restaurant, dates or times of meals.

Norris also used the fund to finance a trip to New York to attend the funeral of an employee's relative and then interview for a top post for a local police department in that state.

In a little more than two years, Norris authorized the spending of about $159,190 from the account.

The city has taken over the fund, which contains about $233,000 in cash and stock, and the city police union has asked for some control over the way the funds will be spent.

The fund evolved from three charities for which city police officers in the 1920s and 1930s raised private money to help officers in need and finance athletic events.

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