Arundel executive Leopold under investigation by state prosecutors

Leader says he was contacted about delivery of check to police driver; election opponent says she has been contacted as well

March 16, 2011|By Nicole Fuller and Andrea F. Siegel, The Baltimore Sun

State prosecutors are investigating whether Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold misused government resources by directing his county-funded security detail to carry out campaign activities, according to witnesses who say they were interviewed in connection with the probe.

John M. Singleton, an attorney acting on behalf of five members of Leopold's security detail, said they are negotiating an immunity deal with the Office of the State Prosecutor that would allow the county police officers to provide information to investigators without threat of prosecution.

The county's fire union chief and Leopold's former political challenger also said they were contacted by an investigator from the state prosecutor's office regarding the county executive's use of his security detail.

State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt, whose office is charged with prosecuting public officials, would not confirm or deny an investigation, citing his office's policy not to comment on what could be a continuing inquiry.

Leopold, a Republican in his second term, said Wednesday he had "no knowledge" of an investigation but acknowledged that his security detail carried out tasks for him as he was recuperating from back surgery last year. He also criticized his rivals, calling the allegations "political retaliation" and pointing specifically to his recent efforts to alter the county's binding arbitration agreement, which have angered public safety and other employees.

"There are all kinds of ways state prosecutors can get complaints; that doesn't mean they have any substance," said Leopold. "People can make complaints all the time."

According to those who say they were interviewed by investigators, the inquiry has focused on a couple of alleged incidents, including members of Leopold's security detail being directed to pick up a campaign contribution check and to remove campaign signs of Joanna L. Conti, a Democrat who lost last year's election to Leopold.

While Anne Arundel and most large jurisdictions provide taxpayer-funded security to its executives and mayors, government employees are generally prohibited under the law from carrying out campaign activities while on the job.

Officers detailed to Leopold serve as drivers and provide security at county events. The cost to provide the service topped $250,000 in 2010 — a $45,000 increase from the previous year, according to information obtained by The Baltimore Sun under a Maryland Public Information Act request. The data shows increasing overtime accounted for the lion's share of the increase.

Officers who work on Leopold's security detail have declined to comment through Singleton and O'Brien Atkinson, president of the county's police union. Atkinson said he plans to offer the union's attorneys should the officers "need legal advice or any guidance."

Singleton, an attorney who is separately representing several women in a $10 million federal lawsuit filed against Leopold last year alleging sexual harassment, gender discrimination and workplace retaliation, said Wednesday he has spoken with the prosecutor on behalf of the officers.

"I have been in contact with the office of the state prosecutor to put together some type of immunity agreement for those officers or other public officials who are reporting wrongful acts by those in the Leopold administration," said Singleton. "People have been scared to death of coming forward, and this would allow them to avoid any type of public prosecution for acts that might be considered illegal acts."

Sources with knowledge of the investigation said Major Ed Bergin, commander of the Police Department's special services unit, which provides security to Leopold, met with Davitt on Wednesday afternoon. Bergin declined to comment.

Conti said she was contacted Wednesday morning by an investigator from the state prosecutor's office about allegations that Leopold may have directed members of his security detail to remove Conti's campaign signs. Conti said she told the investigator that she heard rumors her signs were being stolen, but she did not have any evidence and did not file a police report.

"The problem is, I didn't have any proof then, and I still don't have any," Conti said.

Craig Oldershaw, president of the firefighters union, said he was contacted late last week by a member of that state prosecutor's office and spoke with him about an incident that took place in late September. He said the investigator indicated hearing that Oldershaw was "one of the ones that Leopold sent his driver to, to pick up a check."

Oldershaw said he told the investigator that a member of the detail picked up a $4,000 check from the firefighters' political action committee after an event during which union officials interviewed candidates. The union's office manager and the PAC chairman were there, he said. Oldershaw's claims were first reported by The (Annapolis) Capital newspaper.

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