Ehrlich mailing links O'Malley to FBI probe without quite saying so

Maryland Votes 2006 -- 37 Days Until Nov. 7

October 01, 2006|By Bradley Olson | Bradley Olson,SUN REPORTER

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s re-election committee asserts in a mailing that "The FBI is investigating Martin O'Malley's leadership of the police department" - a charge denounced yesterday as "malicious" by O'Malley's gubernatorial campaign and "disgraceful" by a top Baltimore police official.

The brochure - the latest to slam O'Malley's record on crime - names no specific investigation, but states that "the FBI launched an investigation of the Baltimore Police Department and their involvement in theft, rape and evidence planting."

Shareese N. DeLeaver, spokeswoman for the Ehrlich campaign, said, "We're not implying that Martin O'Malley is under investigation, but the Baltimore City Police Department, under his failed leadership, is."

Special Agent Michelle Crnkovich, spokeswoman for the Baltimore FBI field office, said, "We do not confirm or deny investigations."

But a Department of Justice official said there is no active investigation into O'Malley's activities, saying that federal agents were perplexed by the accusation that he improperly engaged in oversight of Police Department activities.

Currently, the FBI is monitoring an investigation by city Police Department internal affairs and city prosecutors, after a grand jury indicted members of a squad in the city's Southwestern District on charges that an officer forced a woman to have sex in a station house, as well as allegations of illegal drug possession.

DeLeaver said the flier was well within bounds because Baltimore's mayor is accountable for the actions of city agencies, much as the governor is accountable for the actions of state agencies. Voters in jurisdictions including Anne Arundel and Howard counties reported receiving the brochure yesterday.

"Any investigation of the Baltimore City Police Department falls squarely at the feet of Martin O'Malley," DeLeaver said. "This is not a criticism of the Police Department but the lack of leadership of the O'Malley administration. Despite the revolving door of seven police commissioners, there has been one major void of leadership."

Change in tone

But Baltimore City Deputy Police Commissioner Marcus Brown reacted angrily to the mailing, saying that "the FBI currently does not have an open investigation in relation to the leadership of the Police Department or Martin O'Malley's leadership of the Police Department."

As for the statement in the brochure that the FBI had launched an investigation of the department, he said it was "not true."

He also said that "for the Police Department to be used in this manner by any political campaign is disgraceful when it comes to the men and women who have died in the line of duty and who go out every night and try to make Baltimore safer."

The campaign brochure further illustrates the sharply negative tone that has overtaken the governor's race in recent days. With Ehrlich trailing in the polls, he has focused intense criticism on Baltimore schools - some of which are the worst-performing in the state - and on crime.

In the past week, his campaign's attack on the city's crime rate has intensified. It began airing a radio commercial on black-orientated stations criticizing city police arrest policies that frequently lead to no charges, and on Friday introduced two new television commercials attacking the mayor's record.

O'Malley has fought back, and the city's police chief and top union officials defended the department's performance last week, saying they were outraged that officers were being turned into political pawns during a campaign.

"These are desperate lies from a desperate campaign," Rick Abbruzzese, spokesman for O'Malley's gubernatorial campaign, said yesterday. "Bob Ehrlich's campaign is in total disarray, and now he's mailing sleazy lies into people's homes.

"As Bob Ehrlich continues to lose, we expect that he'll continue to lie, and nothing he says at this point can be trusted. A governor who would try to win re-election this way is simply not worthy of the office, and I think the people of Maryland recognize that, which is why he's down in every statewide poll conducted to date."

Separate investigation

In a separate clash over campaign mailings, the state Board of Elections is investigating whether Ehrlich's campaign broke state law when his campaign sent fundraising solicitations that included a dollar bill, according to The Washington Post.

An Ehrlich campaign spokeswoman said the governor did the same thing four years ago as a way of catching the attention of potential donors. But this time, an anonymous complaint to the elections board has sparked an inquiry into whether the solicitation is effectively the same as an attempt to buy votes, the Post reported yesterday.

DeLeaver confirmed yesterday that the campaign sent the dollars to active campaign donors, but would not say how many received the solicitation. She said the board of elections has not contacted the campaign to inform it of an investigation.

State elections board Chairman Gilles W. Burger did not return a phone message seeking comment yesterday.

DeLeaver said the solicitation is not an attempt to buy votes and that no one had ever complained to the campaign about it.

"It was a successful strategy in 2002, and we decided to employ it in 2006," DeLeaver said.

The mailing encourages recipients of the dollar send it back to the campaign - along with more to help fund the governor's re-election effort against O'Malley.

"This is the most important letter I have ever written to you," Ehrlich says in the letter, according to The Post. "That's why I've taken the extraordinary step of sending you a real dollar bill. ... I don't expect you to keep this dollar. I'm asking that you return this dollar along with a contribution of $25 or more."

bradley.olson@baltsun.com

Sun reporters Andrew A. Green and Matthew Dolan contributed to this article.

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