Ehrlich bristles at probe questions

Aide subpoenaed by U.S. attorney over slots in 2004

October 29, 2006|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,[Sun reporter]

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. acknowledged yesterday that a top aide received subpoenas from federal prosecutors investigating in 2004 what published reports said was the influence of slot-machine gambling interests in Annapolis, an admission that led to a demand by his Democratic opponent that the administration release full details of the probe.

The legal requests came from the office of then-U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio, who had been recommended for the post by Ehrlich.

The subpoenas were issued to Paul E. Schurick, the governor's communications director and one of the key figures in Ehrlich's attempts to legalize slot machines, and were first reported this month by The Washington Post. Schurick received the requests on June 2 and June 16 in 2004 as part of a probe into gambling, the paper said, adding that the governor's press office - still run by Schurick - would not comment on them.

Responding to a question from a caller on Stateline with Governor Ehrlich on WBAL radio yesterday, the governor for the first time spoke publicly about the inquiry.

"Paul cooperated, produced everything that they wanted and nothing came of it," said Ehrlich, responding to the caller.

Later in the day, when asked for more details about what his office had provided to investigators, Ehrlich said, "How would I know?" and added that the line of questioning was prompted by a Democratic Party memo distributed last week. It could not be learned whether federal prosecutors were targeting specific individuals in their investigation.

Democratic Party spokesman David Paulson denied that any "memo or e-mail on this sordid episode" was distributed.

A spokesman for Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, the Democratic nominee for governor, said Ehrlich's acknowledgement that his communications chief received a subpoena is further evidence that the governor did nothing to eliminate the "culture of corruption" he campaigned against four years ago.

"There are all these criminal investigations, and they just cover them up," said O'Malley spokesman Steve Kearney. "There's this one that they hid for two years. There's the federal investigation of governor's deputy chief of staff [Edward B. Miller, who created a compay that lobbyist Jack Abramoff said he used to launder money]. ... There's the federal investigation into the governor's top fundraiser [Richard E. Hug] setting up secret nonprofits. ... Taxpayers deserve answers - and they deserve better."

There is no indication that Miller and Hug are the subject of current investigations, although Miller's company received a subpoena in the Abramoff probe, and Hug's slots-related fundraising activities were examined by federal investigators.

Ehrlich has supported a slots bill in each of his four years, but the House of Delegates killed it every time. With millions of dollars of profits at stake, the gambling and horse racing industries have spent heavily in Annapolis - making $700,000 in campaign donations in the five years prior to 2004, according to a Common Cause study, and spending up to $600,000 yearly on lobbyists.

A month before DiBiagio subpoenaed Schurick, he wrote a memo to his staff pressuring them to aggressively pursue public corruption cases. The meeting agenda, obtained by The Sun, said DiBiagio wanted "three `front-page' indictments" by that November to cement his office's status as a premier investigative agency.

About a month after Schurick was contacted, DiBiagio's powers to investigate public corruption were severely curtailed by a new directive from his bosses who said that officials with the Bush administration Justice Department in Washington had to approve any such investigations.

The caller to WBAL who raised the issue - who identified himself only as "Leo" - questioned the timing and asked Ehrlich if anyone in the governor's administration or on the governor's behalf intervened to quash the investigation, a suggestion that drew Ehrlich's anger.

"The timing of it was very coincidental, because as you know, Mr. Schurick was subpoenaed in June of 2004, and then it was about four weeks after that the Department of Justice, which is of course run by Republicans, stripped him of his authority to pursue public corruption investigations," the caller said.

Ehrlich said: "Are you suggesting through that statement that something nefarious happened? When the guy prosecuted my superintendent of Maryland state police?" referring to Edward T. Norris, who pleaded guilty to misusing a police account for personal gain while city police commissioner.

"I think that your call is really inappropriate. I think it's partisan. I think that you are trying to damage the reputation of somebody who has worked for Democrats most of their life," Ehrlich said. Schurick was once chief of staff to then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

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