Norris indicted by U.S.

A chief who `lies, cheats, steals,' DiBiagio says

Head of Md. police quits after document unsealed

Misuse of city fund alleged

Court papers say $20,000 was used for gifts, trips

December 11, 2003|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Maryland State Police Superintendent Edward T. Norris has been charged with illegally spending about $20,000 in Baltimore police funds while he was the city's top officer to cover personal expenses, including romantic liaisons with several women, according to a federal indictment unsealed yesterday.

Norris, 43, who is married, promptly resigned and is expected to appear in U.S. District Court for his initial hearing today on charges that he conspired to misapply funds, misapplied funds and made a false statement on a mortgage application three years ago.

Norris' former city chief of staff, John Stendrini, was also indicted on charges of misapplying the police money and is accused of obstructing justice by lying to city officials about how the expense account was used.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. named Thomas E. "Tim" Hutchins - the state's secretary of veterans affairs, a retired state trooper and former member of the House of Delegates - acting state police superintendent.

Among the revelations in the indictment about Norris' spending from the obscure departmental expense account:

Norris made repeated trips to New York, where he had romantic encounters with women while staying at trendy hotels and dining at expensive restaurants.

The former commissioner bought personal items - from money clips to clothes, including a leather jacket for $371.61 - and stocked hundreds of dollars worth of liquor in his home.

He bought gifts for himself and others, including items for three women from a Victoria's Secret store the day before Valentine's Day in 2001.

In announcing the indictment yesterday morning, Maryland U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio said he was sending a message that he would not tolerate corruption at any level in law enforcement.

"The defendants repeatedly used the fund as if it were their personal ATM, and repeatedly made withdrawals to pay for luxury hotels, expensive meals and clothes and gifts and to finance romantic encounters with several different women," DiBiagio said.

"If a police commissioner repeatedly lies, cheats and steals and we look the other way, what message does that send to law enforcement officers on the street as they face opportunities of corruption every day?" DiBiagio said, adding that the investigation is continuing.

When asked what Norris should have bought with the expense account, DiBiagio answered simply: "Bulletproof vests for his officers."

Norris' attorney, Andrew Jay Graham, did not return several telephone messages seeking comment. Stendrini, 60, could not be reached.

If convicted of all charges, Norris faces a maximum sentence of 45 years, and Stendrini could face 25.

An attorney representing Norris' father, who was questioned before the grand jury, said prosecutors had wasted resources investigating the superintendent.

"It is unfortunate that at a time when Maryland is facing increasing violent crime and the threat of terrorism, the United States has chosen to devote scarce resources to a matter that has been previously scrutinized and resolved by local officials," said Andrew C. White, the attorney for Edward Norris Sr.

An independent audit financed by the city determined that Norris had authorized nearly $8,000 in personal and questionable expenses from the account. That amount was later deducted from his $137,000 severance package.

Word of the indictment - which was handed up by a grand jury Tuesday and unsealed yesterday - spread quickly across the state. It forced two political rivals who had hired Norris for top policing jobs to grapple with the indictment's significance.

hGovernor's reaction

In Annapolis, Ehrlich accepted Norris' resignation. Although he named Hutchins acting state police superintendent, he left open the possibility of Norris' return if he were acquitted.

"Should the superintendent be exonerated, I think it is a matter of fundamental fairness that all due consideration be given to restoring one's job and reputation," Ehrlich said. "Obviously, Secretary Hutchins is in full agreement with that view."

Ehrlich said he does not regret Norris' selection as Maryland's top police officer.

"It was certainly our impression that all of this was behind him - and us - at the time," the governor said.

Mayor speaks out

Thirty miles away in Baltimore, Mayor Martin O'Malley said he felt betrayed by Norris' behavior.

"It's a sad day," O'Malley said. "All of us take an oath. Those of us who hold a public trust have to be held to that trust."

The mayor hired Norris in early 2000 from the New York Police Department and has said he did not know about the fund or how Norris was using it until its existence was exposed in an article by The Sun last year.

At the time, O'Malley aggressively defended his police chief and only offered tepid criticism of Norris' accounting skills. The mayor ordered an outside audit and later withheld $7,663 from Norris' severance payment when he left the city department in December to become Ehrlich's state police superintendent.

Federal inquiry

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