Election official focus of inquiry

Md. investigator to gather information on Lamone

Democrats denounce probe

Ehrlich wants to replace Glendening's appointee

August 27, 2004|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

A veteran investigator from the state public safety department's internal investigation unit has been assigned to dig up information on the performance of Linda H. Lamone, Maryland's elections chief, apparently to build a case for firing her.

Legislative leaders called the move a "gross misuse" of public safety resources and described it as part of a political "witch hunt" to oust Lamone.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has said he wants to replace Lamone, a holdover from Gov. Parris N. Glendening's administration. But the five-member board that oversees the elections department - now dominated by Ehrlich appointees - can fire Lamone only "for cause."

Sen. James E. DeGrange Sr., an Anne Arundel County Democrat, called it "outrageous" to divert an internal affairs investigator from his correctional duties to investigate Lamone.

In a letter to Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Mary Ann Saar, dated Wednesday, DeGrange asked why Saar "would permit scarce internal affairs resources to be used to assist a politically motivated investigation" into Lamone's job performance.

"This appears to be a gross misuse use of the resources of Public Safety's internal investigation unit," DeGrange wrote.

Saar responded that her agency had done nothing more than respond to a "request to detail an experienced investigator to another state agency to assist that agency in conducting an investigation." She said she was not privy to the details of the investigation.

It wasn't clear who made the request, but sources indicated that it probably came from the elections board.

The investigator, Sgt. Edmund O'Leary, declined to comment, referring questions to Saar's office.

Elections Board Chairman Gilles W. Burger also refused to comment "about personnel matters."

Ehrlich's most recent appointment to the elections board, Gene M. Raynor, a Democrat and close associate of Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, said he knew nothing about the circumstances of the Lamone investigation.

Raynor has said Lamone should be replaced.

Mark Vernarelli, a spokesman for Saar, said initially that the agency was asked about four weeks ago to lend an investigator to "assist in an investigation in which the attorney general's office was involved." He later said the request came from another agency, which he declined to identify.

"Secretary Saar absolutely knows where [O'Leary] is assigned, but she has chosen not to discuss it because he's involved in an investigation, and she absolutely does not know what the investigation is about," Vernarelli said.

Not a criminal inquiry

Deputy Attorney General Donna Hill Staton said the attorney general's office advises the elections board as it does other agencies. Without naming the board specifically, Staton said the attorney general's office is advising an agency that asked for assistance with an investigation and that an investigator is helping gather facts.

"This is not a criminal investigation," Staton said.

Lamone declined to comment.

Vernarelli said it is "relatively rare" for an internal investigator to be assigned to another agency.

The powers of internal investigators are spelled out in state law. They are limited to investigating alleged criminal wrongdoing or misconduct by correctional employees, and acts by inmates, visitors or others that affect the safety and security of correctional facilities.

Rare action

In a few instances, an internal investigator can exercise powers outside correctional facilities. One is "when ordered to do so by the governor," the statute states.

Ehrlich said yesterday that he knew nothing about O'Leary's assignment to investigate Lamone until a reporter informed him of it.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said he doesn't know whether Ehrlich was behind the move, but that ousting Lamone would appeal to the governor's base of conservative supporters.

"This is a witch hunt conducted by the right wing of the Republican Party to take control of the election machinery in Maryland," said Miller, a Prince George's County Democrat and supporter of Lamone's.

State Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat who leads a legislative committee that oversees Saar's agency, said that he was surprised when he learned of the investigation.

"I can't imagine what business the internal affairs department of public safety has investigating Linda Lamone," Frosh said. "It's beyond outrageous."

Sun staff writers David Nitkin and Gus Sentementes contributed to this article.

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