Prosecutor under fire

Last week's raid on Dixon's home pulls quiet Republican appointee into spotlight, stirs accusations of partisanship

June 22, 2008|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,Sun reporter

Maryland State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh claims that he has no hobbies, and that he's just not that interesting. He says he spends long days at his Towson office and then heads home to spend time with his family in Montgomery County.

But the man with the simple lifestyle is the same one who ordered a raid last week on the home of Mayor Sheila Dixon. As television cameras rolled, Rohrbaugh's staff carted off file folders and boxes full of unknown contents. After two years of investigating contracting practices at City Hall, Rohrbaugh's office issued a flurry of new subpoenas last week to Dixon associates, some of whom are expected to testify before a city grand jury this week.

Dixon happens to be his latest investigative subject, but Rohrbaugh, 60, and his team of investigators have delved into the public, personal and financial lives of Maryland's A-list, from major political donors to the former dean of the Baltimore City Board of Liquor License Commissioners.

FOR THE RECORD - Articles in Sunday's and yesterday's editions of The Sun about the state prosecutor's investigation of Mayor Sheila Dixon misspelled the name of attorney Gerard P. Martin.
The Sun regrets the error.

In some cases, he has netted guilty pleas and fines - in one, he returned millions in stolen funds to the city school system. But others, such as the liquor board case, have yielded no results, prompting criticism from those who complain that he wastes years and millions of taxpayer dollars on baseless investigations. Tuesday's raid has brought pressure like never before, including accusations that the Republican appointee is targeting Democrats.

"It'd better be more than ... something [they could have received ] had they asked the lawyer," said Gerald P. Martin, a lawyer for Doracon Contracting - a company that was raided last year as part of the probe. "It takes a lot of nerve to go out" and raid a private home.

Rohrbaugh and his staff don't answer questions about their investigations - they won't even confirm whether one is under way. But based on the guilty pleas, searches and subpoenas over the past two years, the office appears to be investigating City Hall contracting practices from Dixon's time as City Council president.

The Sun reported in 2006 that Dixon voted on contracts that benefited her sister's employer, Utech. The paper also revealed that the City Council had paid Dixon's longtime friend and campaign chairman, Dale G. Clark, for computer work without a contract. He was paid $500,000 over five years.

Clark and Mildred Boyer, the founder of Utech, have pleaded guilty to tax charges as a result of the investigation and have agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

The General Assembly created the state prosecutor's office in 1976 after a series of public corruption scandals in Maryland. The office, which is designed to be independent of political influence, can initiate investigations on its own or at the request of the governor, legislature or other top officials. Rohrbaugh is the third person to head the office.

Rohrbaugh has never liked to take questions from reporters, especially those who want to pry into his personal life and probe his views on keeping government honest. He declined to be interviewed for this article and wouldn't agree to a photograph.

According to a report his office issued four years ago, he earned a bachelor's degree in economics from Wittenburg University in Ohio in 1969 and his law degree from American University's Washington College of Law in 1972. The report said he is married and has two daughters. He lives in Brinklow in Montgomery County.

Four years ago, after his appointment was announced, Rohrbaugh made a brief statement that gave no hint as to how he would run the office, which some at the time argued had become dangerously atrophied "I think it's an exciting position," Rohrbaugh told The Sun.

Rohrbaugh started his law career in the 1970s. He was an assistant U.S. attorney from 1974 to 1980. The man who put him in the job was former U.S. Attorney George Beall, who at the time of his appointment called Rohrbaugh an "experienced practitioner" and a professional who is "genuinely admired by members of the judiciary."

One of the admirers at the time was former Assistant U.S. Attorney Dale Kelberman, who started in the federal prosecutor's office after Rohrbaugh had moved on, but who knew him from alumni gatherings. He said then that Rohrbaugh was "a person of integrity."

Now Kelberman is an attorney in private practice with a high-profile client: Sheila Dixon. He said that's changed his opinion of the state prosecutor, but only slightly.

"I still think he's a person of integrity, but we have a difference of opinion about how to conduct an investigation," Kelberman said.

"I do find it interesting," Kelberman said of the change of circumstances.

After his time with the U.S. attorney's office, Rohrbaugh went into private practice in Rockville. He specialized in product liability cases involving child restraints.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.