Former state official indicted

Anti-crime chief accused of misusing federal funds

Townsend aides' pay involved

Ex-candidate not a target of probe, prosecutor says

March 18, 2004|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

The former director of a Maryland agency that distributes millions of dollars in federal crime-fighting grants was indicted on charges he misused $6.3 million, part of which paid for speechwriters and other staff for then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, authorities said yesterday.

The charges against Stephen P. Amos, former executive director of the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, came after a 2-year FBI investigation that clouded Townsend's unsuccessful run for governor in 2002. Maryland's chief federal prosecutor said yesterday that the probe is continuing, but he said Townsend is not a target.

"I think, in all fairness to the former lieutenant governor, I can say the investigation did not uncover any evidence of wrongdoing on her behalf," Maryland U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio said in his first public comments about the long-running and politically sensitive investigation.

Townsend did not return calls seeking comment yesterday. Her attorney, Herbert J. Miller Jr., said that Townsend appeared once before the federal grand jury in the case, and that she "never received a target letter, nor do I know of any reason why she should have."

As lieutenant governor, she oversaw the crime-control office and played a major role in its expansion under then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening. But DiBiagio said that Townsend was not aware of the misuse of funds alleged in the indictment against Amos and did not direct the agency to put her workers on its payroll.

Amos is accused of misappropriating money that was supposed to go to projects such as building detention centers, or paying for additional judges, prosecutors or probation officers. Instead of using the funds for those purposes, Amos is accused of directing the money toward salaries of as many as 50 workers, including apparent political aides to Townsend.

An attorney for Amos, 44, a Catonsville resident, said Amos had done nothing wrong during the almost three years he headed the agency. Baltimore defense attorney Gregg L. Bernstein said that, if anything, Amos helped to substantially turn around a state agency that had become an unwieldy, bureaucratic morass.

"At worst, this is an administrative and budget issue," Bernstein said. "It is mind-boggling that the U.S. attorney would turn this into a crime, and we are confident a jury will have the same reaction to this indictment that we do."

Prosecutors face a more immediate hurdle in the case -- a Supreme Court challenge to the law they are relying on to prosecute Amos.

To bring federal charges against Amos, investigators used a broadly drawn public corruption statute that allows federal authorities to investigate corruption in state and local agencies that receive at least $10,000 in federal funding. The U.S. Supreme Court is considering a challenge to the law brought by a Minnesota real estate developer who contends it is unconstitutional; the court is expected to rule by June.

DiBiagio acknowledged yesterday that if the court finds the statute unconstitutional on its face, the charges against Amos will fail.

Amos is accused in the indictment of using federal grant money to pay the salaries and benefits of 10 individuals who "were employed on paper by GOCCP but who actually worked on the staff of the lieutenant governor of Maryland." Authorities said Amos also used the crime-fighting money to add as many as 40 positions at the agency.

The indictment alleges that Amos attempted to cover up the misuse of funds by requiring grant recipients to put various employees on their payrolls, while they actually did administrative work at his direction.

Amos could receive up to 30 years in prison if convicted, but he would likely face substantially less time under the federal sentencing guidelines. Former Baltimore police officials Edward T. Norris and John Stendrini are expected to receive no more than 12 months and six months of jail time, respectively, for their guilty pleas to the same federal corruption charge earlier this month. In some instances, the indictment alleged, the agency also required grant recipients to provide automobiles "for the use of these disguised GOCCP employees."

The indictment identified 10 people who worked for Townsend but were paid by the crime control agency. They were: Michael A. Sarbanes, deputy chief of staff; Alice Brauer, receptionist; Ian Brennan, an assistant to Sarbanes; Adam Gelb, executive aide; Everett Hawkins, correspondence writer; Danielle King, correspondence supervisor; and four speechwriters -- Howard Lavine, Sarah Hurwitz, Thomas Wilson and Daniel Franklin.

Bernstein said Amos hired none of those workers during his tenure. He was named executive director of the crime control office in July 2000 and was fired in February 2003, when Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. took office and replaced much of the staff.

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