Ex-state official seeks repayment of legal fees

Amos cleared of misuse-of-funds charge


A former state agency head accused of misusing federal crime-fighting grant money - charges that were later dropped - is asking the state to pay $193,134 in legal fees he incurred during the three-year investigation.

The public corruption investigation of Stephen P. Amos and the state agency he ran made headlines in the weeks leading up to the 2002 election for governor, tarnishing the image of the losing candidate, former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a Democrat.

The probe, led by a Republican U.S. attorney who was appointed with the sponsorship of Townsend's opponent in the race, then-Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., was criticized for its election-year timing.

Federal authorities eventually indicted Amos in March 2004 on charges of improperly using grant money for administrative purposes. The charges were dropped in January.

Gregg Bernstein, Amos' attorney, said that state law allows public employees to seek recovery of their legal expenses in cases that involve the performance of their public duties.

"The bottom line is if you are found not guilty or the charges are otherwise dismissed, you can apply to the attorney general for reimbursement of reasonable counsel fees, " Bernstein said.

The attorney general's office confirmed yesterday that the request met all legal requirements and was sent on to the three-member state Board of Public Works with a recommendation that the legal fees be paid.

The board, made up of Ehrlich, Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Treasurer Nancy Kopp, could take up the issue as early as next week.

The federal investigation focused on Amos' actions as executive director of the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, an agency overseen by Townsend.

Prosecutors had alleged that $6.3 million in grant money that should have been spent to build new detention centers and hire more judges and prosecutors was used instead to pay administrative expenses that exceeded allowable amounts.

There was never any claim that Amos had used money to enrich himself.

Amos said payment of the legal fees is warranted given the outcome of the case.

"I was unquestionably cleared," he said. "The case was dismissed by the government. My record was expunged."

Amos said that he has been doing occasional consulting work since his dismissal. He said he has been "largely unemployed" as a result of the indictment.

The issue of paying Amos' legal fees could prove awkward for Ehrlich, who had pointed to the high-profile investigation of the crime control office during his campaign as an example of why change was needed at the State House in Annapolis.

Henry Fawell, a spokesman for Ehrlich, said the governor is reserving judgment on paying Amos' legal fees.

"The governor believes this item deserves serious scrutiny," Fawell said. "He has directed his staff to carefully review the request and work closely with the attorney general's office in the coming days and weeks."

Bernstein said he is hopeful that the issue of paying the legal fees will be decided based on the merits of the request, free of political considerations.

"This has been a very difficult chapter of Mr. Amos' life," Bernstein said. "He would simply like to put this matter behind him, with his legal fees paid, and get on with his life. He is not looking to prolong this sordid tale any further."greg.garland@comcast.net

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