Norris said to break grant rules

Ex-police head owes $4,000 for using program to buy house, officials say

January 15, 2004|By Doug Donovan | Doug Donovan,SUN STAFF

Former Maryland State Police Superintendent Edward T. Norris, who is fighting federal public corruption charges, has breached the conditions of a city grant program that gives a financial break to government employees who buy a house in Baltimore, according to city officials.

Norris bought a Mount Washington house three years ago, when he was the city's police commissioner, with the help of $5,000 from the Baltimore City Employee Homeownership Program, city officials said.

The $600,000 program, financed annually by city bonds, helps city employees cover real estate costs if they buy houses in certain Baltimore neighborhoods. Under the terms of Norris' house purchase, the $5,000 would have been forgiven had he remained in the house for 10 years but would be only partially forgiven -- 10 percent for each year he lived there -- if he left earlier.

Norris left his city job to become state police superintendent in December 2002. He sold his Fairbank Road house in October, nearly three years after he bought it. The city forgave two years, or 20 percent, of his grant, meaning Norris owes the city 80 percent, or $4,000, said Stephen J. Kearney, a spokesman for Mayor Martin O'Malley.

Kearney said city employees participating in the program who sell their houses early must repay their grants within 30 days of selling. Norris has not repaid the grant, he said.

The city's Department of Housing and Community Development sent a letter to Norris on Dec. 22 alerting him to what he owes, city officials said. A second letter was sent Jan. 5 and certified by Norris' signature Jan. 9, according to city officials.

Norris' attorney, David B. Irwin, said he knew nothing of the grant's specifics except to say it was legitimate and that its repayment has nothing to do with the charges Norris faces in federal court.

Irwin said that he expects Maryland U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio to amend his indictment against Norris to bolster his case but that such a standard step would have nothing to do with the city grant.

Norris was charged by DiBiagio in December with illegally spending $20,000 in Baltimore police funds while commissioner to cover personal expenses, according to the federal indictment.

The indictment went beyond Norris' use of the police fund and delved into how he bought his Mount Washington home. Norris was indicted on one count of lying on his mortgage application. Prosecutors said Norris received a $9,000 loan from one of his employees for the down payment but told his lender, the Municipal Employees Credit Union, that the money was a gift from his father.

Norris has pleaded innocent to the charges.

The city's homeownership program has not been mentioned in any of the charges against Norris. The city program was created in 1994 and has helped 1,252 employees purchase houses in the city with $7 million in grants, housing officials said. Although the program does not require city employees to live in distressed areas of the city, it does not award grants to employees buying in more affluent neighborhoods, such as Roland Park.

At the time Norris applied for the grant, Mount Washington was not excluded from the program, as it is today. In addition, such loans are now for $3,000, instead of $5,000, and are forgiven after five years, not 10.

Sun Staff Writer Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this article.

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