State prosecutor served two decades in office

Colleagues praise him for integrity, sensitivity

Stephen Montanarelli : 1929-2004

May 16, 2004|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli, who investigated charges of public corruption and ethics law violations for two decades while serving under four governors, died of multiple myeloma cancer complications Friday night at Franklin Square Hospital Center. The Kingsville resident was 75.

"Steve really made the office. He did an excellent job in spite of the fact he had limitations on his powers," said former Gov. Harry R. Hughes, who appointed him to the job in 1984.

Among his cases was the 1994 prosecution of former Baltimore Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean for planning to steal more than $25,000 in taxpayer funds. In 1996 he successfully prosecuted Pimlico racetrack owner Joseph A. De Francis for making illegal contributions to Gov. Parris N. Glendening's 1994 campaign.

Early in his career, he launched Operation Quarter Match, an investigation of the vending machine business in local bars that turned up millions of dollars in unpaid taxes, which were later collected. In 1999, he gained convictions on violations of state liquor laws against the chief inspector for the Baltimore city liquor board and the owner of a video poker business.

When state Sen. Larry Young was expelled from the Senate for ethics violations in 1998, Mr. Montanarelli investigated the case, leading to an indictment from an Anne Arundel County grand jury on charges of bribery, extortion and filing a false tax return. A trial judge later threw out the extortion charges, and a jury acquitted Mr. Young of the bribery and tax evasion charges.

Mr. Montanarelli also investigated Linda Tripp's wiretapping of Clinton White House intern Monica Lewinsky, but later dropped the case when the key evidence was ruled inadmissible.

`Definition of integrity'

"Steve was the definition of integrity, and that is why he was able to serve in such a sensitive position through the administration of four governors," said Thomas M. McDonough, his senior assistant and the first person hired by Mr. Montanrelli in 1984. "Steve was never a political animal. That's what made him such a perfect choice for state prosecutor. His cardinal rule was that this office has got to be above politics."

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. issued a statement praising Mr. Montanarelli's "highly ethical" public career. "He'll be missed by the people of Maryland. He was a good man," Governor Ehrlich said through spokesman Greg Massoni.

Though his cancer was diagnosed four years ago, Mr. Montanarelli worked, with only a few interruptions, until this month. He most recently obtained an indictment against a city public school administrator who is charged with embezzling thousand of dollars from the rental of school buildings.

"You couldn't divorce Steve's life from his work. He had to be there," said Mr. McDonough, adding that Mr. Montanarelli showed up at the Towson office even when visibly weakened by his illness. He said the prosecutor had hoped to complete one last annual report and was prepared to step down in the near future.

Still, his death caught Mr. McDonough and others by surprise because Mr. Montanarelli had appeared to rally earlier in the day. "It was the last thing we expected," he said.

The state prosecutor's office was created in the mid-1970s amid a series of public corruption scandals in Maryland after federal prosecutors took the lead in investigating such officials as Baltimore County Executive Dale Anderson and Vice President Spiro T. Agnew, who had been Baltimore County executive and Maryland governor. Mr. Montanarelli was only the second to hold the office.

A 1998 Sun article noted that though his office "has historically been seen as underfunded and understaffed, Montanarelli has investigated scores of allegations against public officials accused of breaking the law."

Retired Baltimore Judge Edgar Silver said he was "a dedicated and highly principled man in a difficult job."

Born in Utica, N.Y., Mr. Montanarelli earned 12 high school letters in sports and won awards as a discus thrower. He earned a political science degree in 1951 from Colgate University, where he played football and ran track. He then earned a master's degree from Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. He came to Baltimore in 1954 as a consultant to help Baltimore County develop its budget process.

"He loved Maryland," said his wife of nearly 40 years, the former Jane Warrington Carr. "He liked to tell the story he had one crab cake and that convinced him to stay here. He was a devotee of all Maryland seafood."

Mr. Montanarelli worked in administration for the Martin Co. in Middle River and studied nights at the University of Maryland's School of Law. He passed the bar exam in 1961 and was president of his law fraternity.

His bosses at what became Martin Marietta assigned him to Paris, where he worked on contracts. There he also developed an affection for French cuisine and wine.

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