Budget riles official who prosecuted Dixon

February 23, 2010|By Annie Linskey | annie.linskey@baltsun.com

The Maryland prosecutor whose City Hall corruption investigation led to the ouster of former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon said Monday that his office's proposed $1.2 million budget is "paltry" and prevents him from fully vetting allegations of fraud.

"It is difficult to understand why the state is reluctant to spend relatively little to attempt to assure the budgeted money is being used as intended," State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh said in written testimony to a legislative committee reviewing his agency's spending.

Putting more money into the prosecutor's office, Rohrbaugh said, would "assure that the hard-earned taxpayer dollars are being used as intended and are not being diverted by fraudulent, manipulative dealings of public servants."

Rohrbaugh declined to elaborate on his written comments after the hearing.

The 15-position office investigates public fraud and election-law transgressions, and its $1.2 million budget consumes just a sliver of Maryland's $13 billion general operating fund. But Rohrbaugh's concerns have particular resonance this year, coming shortly after he secured what many consider to be the biggest victory in the office's history. While the agency had been the subject of long-standing criticism for an inability to win major convictions, last year's Dixon trial upended that reputation.

In March 2006, Rohrbaugh launched an investigation into then-City Council President Sheila Dixon's relationship with Baltimore developers. The probe resulted in four indictments, and two prominent developers pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations.

A city jury found Dixon, a Democrat, guilty of theft in December, and she acknowledged that the state had enough evidence to convict her on a related perjury charge. She resigned earlier this month. A separate case against a city councilwoman is pending.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch noted that all state offices are feeling pain this year, and that the prosecutor's office is not being singled out. "Everyone is going through cuts," he said.

Rohrbaugh did not seek more money at the hearing, said Sen. James E. DeGrange Jr., an Anne Arundel County Democrat who heads the panel that reviewed the prosecutor's budget. "I'm sure he'd love to advocate for more positions," said DeGrange, noting that while one vacant position is being eliminated, no filled job slots are being cut.

The proposed budget for Rohrbaugh's office includes $18,000 more than last year's funding, mostly due to higher costs for employee health care and the retirement system.

Gov. Martin O'Malley's budget proposal would eliminate a computer forensics analyst position and replace it with a contract job. Rohrbaugh wants to keep that slot as a state position.

A contract position might not attract quality applicants, he said. The office, he added, "can ill-afford to lose the potential of attracting qualified investigators and attorneys."

During the Dixon case, an investigator failed to obtain key documents on time, and an important witness was barred from testifying as a result.

Rohrbaugh said his office has had to "decline to investigate fraud allegations due to a lack of resources," though he did not provide specifics.

Last year, the office investigated 88 corruption complaints and charged eight people, according to documents. Rohrbaugh, a Republican, was appointed by former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. His term expires in September.

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