Rec panel removes leader of civil case

Fellow board members oust head of probe into missing Balto. Co. funds

December 31, 2004|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

A member of a Baltimore County recreation council has been ousted by fellow board members months after he was appointed by them to lead an aggressive civil action in connection with the disappearance of tens of thousands of dollars from the organization's treasury.

Michael Mioduszewski, a member of the West Inverness Recreation Council for three years, said that when he was dismissed he was assisting the state's attorney's office with its investigation of the missing funds.

Board members were aware of his visit last month to Internal Revenue Service officials in Baltimore to discuss questions raised about the board's financial dealings.

"In August, the board wanted me to lead the civil case, but now they've hung me out to dry," Mioduszewski said. By dismissing him, he said, the board effectively scuttled his role in trying to find the missing money, which could total more than $50,000, a figure other board members have confirmed in the past.

Another board member, Dave Mezzanotte, said this week that he resigned in protest when Mioduszewski was removed Dec. 15.

"The board wants to sweep all of this under the rug," said Mezzanotte, an east-side recreation leader for a decade. "Mike was spearheading the civil suit. He tried to convince the board to apply for tax-exempt status. He was trying to get answers by helping in the criminal investigation."

Board President Adeline Finn said yesterday that Mioduszewski was ousted because "Mike was not meeting our philosophy. He offered us no answers about the investigation. He was the first one on the board who went to authorities."

Finn said she knew she was "walking into a horrendous problem" when she assumed stewardship of the recreation council over the summer. "I just wish we could put closure to this because the investigation has been at a standstill for so long," she said.

Neil C. Magness, southeast program coordinator for the county Department of Recreation and Parks, said this week that the board dismissed Mioduszewski because the "board had lost confidence in Mike. He would not share with other board members his progress with getting lawyers for the civil case or how the criminal probe was going."

"This is not the first time this recreation council has had financial problems, but admittedly, this is a very large sum of missing money," Magness said.

The investigation is focused on one person, he said, but "other problems happened [in West Inverness] because all these folks are volunteers and, to be quite honest, they lost sight of the bottom line."

Baltimore County has 43 recreation councils. Some of the larger organizations - Dundalk, Pikesville, Parkville and Catonsville - hire accountants to monitor their books because, Magness said, "their accounts can hit $1 million or more."

Several years ago, he said, the county considered making each recreation council a corporate entity, but the idea was dropped.

West Inverness community concerns also have been directed at County Executive James T. Smith Jr. A petition with more than 300 signatures, which was sent to Smith on Dec. 13 by certified mail, asked how his government "handles theft in county recreation councils." A Smith spokesman confirmed receipt of the petition this week.

"We'd like to see some leadership here," said Bonnie Fairley, who collected the petition signatures and sent them to Smith. "Why does the county seem to protect the board where the trouble is and not offer any help to people who want to do the right thing? Is it because they want to low-profile this scandal because of the expensive new building going up in the community?"

The county is building a $1.6 million community center on Lynch Road in Dundalk, a facility that will be used for recreation council activities and other purposes. The center is expected to open this summer.

Donald I. Mohler III, Smith's spokesman, referred inquiries about the criminal probe of the West Inverness Recreation Council to the county prosecutor's office.

But Mohler said this week that Smith "has taken a keen interest in this situation and has communicated to several departments that they help [West Inverness] implement internal audit controls."

Magness said that his department each year offers informational seminars for rec council board members on topics that include proper bookkeeping. But, to his knowledge, West Inverness received no such basic training. Magness also confirmed the board has never applied for a tax-exempt status from the IRS, which would require the council to account for all income - including fees, donations and fund-raising - and expenses.

"There is no way we want this swept under the rug, because it is a wake-up call," said Magness. "If one person is suspected of taking the money, then so be it. If handwriting analysis and a study of checks and books show others could be implicated, then the investigators have to go where their evidence takes them."

A spokesman for the Baltimore County Police Department, Officer Shawn Vinson, said the "investigation continues, and there have been no charges so far."

For any community, Mioduszewski said, a rec council is an important asset, and people "need to know they can trust those running the board, where parents can access a variety of affordable programs."

The county's Magness agrees. But the tremors through the West Inverness community have left a mark, he said, because "this all happened where friends on the board lost control of the bottom line. Hopefully, this won't linger much longer."

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