Md. to pay ex-worker cleared in fund probe

January 25, 2007|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,Sun reporter

After more than a year of delay by the Ehrlich administration, the Board of Public Works agreed yesterday to repay a former state employee nearly $200,000 for legal bills incurred from what some considered a politically motivated investigation engineered by leading Republicans.

Stephen P. Amos, who headed the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention under Democrat Parris N. Glendening, had been caught up in a corruption probe that became public in 2002, weeks before the gubernatorial election between then-Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. Townsend oversaw Amos' office.

Ehrlich, a Republican, made the investigation a campaign issue and won election as governor in part on a theme of need for change in Annapolis. In 2004, Amos was charged with misusing $6.3 million in federal grant money by allocating too much for administrative expenses. The implication was that the money paid salaries of Townsend staffers whose duties were political in nature. The charges were dropped and the indictment expunged, but the ordeal cost Amos his marriage, house, savings and career. He has been largely unemployed since then.

"We are dealing with one of the largest abuses of political power in the history of the state," said Comptroller Peter Franchot, a public works board member who voted to repay Amos $193,194, as allowed by state law. "It's only a partial compensation. The mental anguish he and his family have gone through are really a black mark on the history of the state."

Gov. Martin O'Malley, who took office a week ago, put the repayment on the agenda of his first board meeting and phoned Amos to apologize for the delay.

"I essentially told him it would be on the agenda and that I was sorry it took so long," O'Malley said. "It was a big injustice. ... Hopefully, it's behind him and his family now and they can move forward."

The Maryland attorney general's office approved the compensation more than a year ago. But the item never came before the Board of Public Works because Ehrlich's chief counsel, Jervis S. Finney, believed the charges were justified even though Amos was cleared of wrongdoing. Finney stood by his position yesterday.

"It did not meet the former governor's standard because there were too many unanswered and unasked questions," Finney said.

Amos said in an interview that he is grateful for the decision, which will help him close a difficult chapter.

"I want to say thank you not only to the governor and the comptroller and the treasurer but ultimately to the people of the state of Maryland," Amos said. "They saw an injustice and did what they could to fix it. ... Bad things happen to good people, and you come to realize that what happens after that is what matters."

The grants investigation was launched by Thomas M. DiBiagio, then the U.S. attorney for Maryland, who was recommended for the job by Ehrlich but has proclaimed his political independence. Amos was never accused of profiting personally from the funds. In 2005, the U.S. attorney's office dropped all charges against Amos, based on a decade-old opinion which suggested that his actions were not illegal. A judge later expunged the records of his indictment and arrest.

Amos has remarried but said he has had difficulty moving on to a new career. He said he hopes that yesterday's action will erase any lingering doubts among potential employers.

Maryland law allows state employees to be reimbursed for legal expenses incurred in good-faith performance of their jobs, and then-Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. agreed in 2005 that Amos was eligible.

Curran said yesterday that his office investigated the Amos case exhaustively.

"It was not, in my opinion, a close call," said Curran, who is O'Malley's father-in-law.

But Finney disagreed and engaged in a one-man investigation of Amos' conduct. E-mail messages released by the state show that Finney questioned the decision by the U.S. attorney's office to drop the indictment. He wrote that he believed that there had been a "secret scheme" to misuse the grant money, and in 2005 began questioning Amos' former co-workers to "ascertain the truth."

Franchot said yesterday that Finney's conduct was "a stain on the state."

Curran declined to comment on the delay but said he's happy that Amos finally got his due.

"It was the fair thing to do a year ago, and I'm glad that now he can have this burden off his mind and go forward with his life," Curran said. "I'm sorry this whole thing happened."

Amos said he is trying not to focus on what went wrong over the past few years but to count his blessings.

"There's no way the government can fix the entirety of what went wrong here, because I lost a lot of my life over it. But they did the right thing and in this case did what they could," Amos said. "It restored my sense of confidence in government and leadership and meant a lot to me. The healing can start for me that up until now has been elusive."

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