Grand jury probes spending by Norris from city fund

Federal panel subpoenas records from police force

February 28, 2003|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

A federal grand jury is investigating a loosely monitored, off-the-books fund used by former Baltimore Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris to finance $159,000 in expenses, including thousands of dollars on trips, meals and gifts.

An investigator in the U.S. attorney's office served the Police Department yesterday with a federal grand jury subpoena for all records and receipts related to the account during Norris' tenure as commissioner. Norris is now Maryland State Police superintendent.

City police said yesterday that they turned over the requested records, including receipts and canceled checks, after receiving the subpoena.

"The Baltimore Police Department intends to fully cooperate with the investigation," said Ragina C. Averella, the department's chief spokeswoman.

The broadly worded subpoena, a copy of which was obtained by The Sun, was served two days after the federal investigator, Carl P. Jaworski, received a copy of an independent audit commissioned by the city after The Sun disclosed the existence of the little-known fund. The audit found that Norris and his aides had spent $5,522 on personal or questionable purchases.

The city deducted $7,688 from Norris' $137,000 severance when he resigned in December.

Norris defended his use of the fund after it was disclosed, although he said bookkeeping was "sloppy" and eventually apologized. Mayor Martin O'Malley strongly defended Norris' integrity at the time while expressing anger at the lack of tight accounting.

Norris declined to comment last night.

State police spokesman Maj. Greg Shipley said the superintendent felt the issue was "old news" and had been thoroughly investigated.

"Colonel Norris has been honest, open and up-front about this issue," Shipley said. "While he was commissioner, information about the fund was reviewed and audited. It was investigated and disseminated to the media and anybody else with an interest in it. I assure you that his candor and cooperation on an issue that is old news will continue."

`Nothing' to allegations

The communications director for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who appointed Norris to the state police post, also defended Norris.

"There's nothing to these allegations," Paul E. Schurick said. Norris "is without a doubt the most qualified law enforcement officer in the United States."

O'Malley's spokeswoman, Raquel Guillory, said city officials were cooperating with the investigation.

The former commissioner's driver, Agent Thomas Tobin, another central figure in the controversy over Norris' spending practices, could not be reached for comment.

Tobin handled many of Norris' purchases and, apparently to pay for them, received more than $48,000 in checks from the account. He was asked to return more than $12,000 that was never spent, after The Sun asked to review the department's files last year.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason M. Weinstein, who is leading the investigation, is a former federal prosecutor in New York who joined the Maryland office last year.

He is also helping to prosecute the high-profile arson case against Darrell L. Brooks, who is charged with killing seven members of an East Baltimore family in an October fire.

Weinstein could not be reached, and Jaworski declined to comment to a Sun reporter as he walked into city police headquarters at 601 E. Fayette St. about 4 p.m. to deliver the subpoena, which was issued by the grand jury yesterday.

He referred questions to U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio, who did not return calls.

The subpoena reveals few clues about the direction of the investigation but encompasses all records, ledgers and receipts associated with the fund since Jan. 1, 2000.

The fund, known as the "supplemental account," began as a charity fund for police officers in the 1920s and 1930s. It evolved into a personal expense account for commissioners.

The account had no city oversight. O'Malley said he was unaware that the fund existed.

It is unclear why federal prosecutors have begun the investigation nearly three months after the audit was completed. City officials have taken over control of the fund, which has about $233,000 in cash and stock remaining.

In little more than two years, Norris authorized the spending of more than $159,190 from the account, according to the audit by Ernst & Young.

Steaks, baseball games

Among questionable purchases, Norris authorized $2,070 for Orioles tickets, 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 participated or when because Norris and his officers submitted receipts that noted the cost of the meals only 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 local police post in that state.

Norris bought office supplies and other items, including a $472.49 Palm Pilot, and spent $3,783.75 for a high-end Apple laptop computer that he kept in his house.

Sun staff writers Gail Gibson and David Nitkin contributed to this article.

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