State prosecutor subpoenas Leopold

Prosecutor seeks records of executive's public schedule

March 17, 2011|By Nicole Fuller, The Baltimore Sun

State prosecutors have served Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold with a subpoena as part of an investigation into whether he misused government resources by directing his county-funded security detail to do work for his 2010 reelection campaign, a spokesman for Leopold confirmed Thursday.

The subpoena, served late Wednesday, seeks the county executive's schedule from 2008 to the present, an indication that the investigation may broaden to include allegations beyond last year's election.

The subpoena also requires Leopold, a Republican who was reelected last year, to answer questions regarding the schedule — but does not demand that he appear before a grand jury, said Leopold spokesman Dave Abrams.

"We believe the request will be satisfied by providing the schedule," Abrams said. He said "the county executive is responding to any and all requests from the state prosecutor's office," and the information would be forwarded to the prosecutor's office "as soon as possible."

The spokesman did not make Leopold available to comment Thursday.

The subpoena, which was served through County Attorney Jonathan A. Hodgson, also names Patty Medlin, Leopold's appointments secretary and the custodian of records for his schedule.

State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt, whose office prosecutes public officials, has declined to confirm or deny an investigation, citing his office's policy against commenting on what could be an active inquiry.

The investigation has focused so far on a pair of alleged incidents involving Leopold's security detail. According to those who say they were interviewed by investigators, Leopold is alleged to have directed members of the security detail to pick up a campaign contribution check and to remove a political challenger's campaign signs.

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

Craig Oldershaw, the head of the county firefighters union, and Joanna L. Conti, a Democrat who lost to Leopold in November, said in interviews earlier this week that they had been contacted by an investigator from the state prosecutor's office about the county executive's use of his security detail.

Oldershaw said a member of Leopold's detail picked up a $4,000 check for Leopold's campaign from him in late September of last year. Oldershaw did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.

Leopold's police detail includes two corporals who work full-time and three officers who work part-time. Overtime costs for the detail doubled in 2010 from the previous year to about $62,000.

Leopold has acknowledged that his security detail carried out tasks for him as he was recuperating from two back surgeries last year. But he called the allegations of impropriety "political retaliation," and questioned the timing of the inquiry, coming after he successfully altered the county's binding arbitration agreement between the county and its public safety employees.

Questions also arose Thursday about Leopold's use of the county attorney's office as his legal counsel. Leopold does not retain his own private counsel, but it was unclear whether he planned to hire a lawyer to represent him in matters relating to the probe. His spokesman could not immediately answer those questions.

Byron L. Warnken, a law professor at the University of Baltimore, said the arrangement presents a possible conflict of interest. Because the allegations involve the possible misuse of county funds by the county executive, he said, it is unclear for whom the county attorney is advocating — the county or the county executive.

Warnken also questioned whether Leopold's defense in a criminal probe is an appropriate use of county funds.

"If I was the county executive, I would absolutely hire my own counsel," he said. "There's no question it puts the county attorney's office in a dilemma."

An attorney representing five members of Leopold's security detail has said the prosecutor's office is working on an immunity deal with the officers that would allow them to provide information to investigators without threat of prosecution.

Police Maj. Ed Bergin, commander of the special services unit, which provides security to Leopold, met with Davitt on Wednesday afternoon, according to several sources. Bergin has declined to comment.

County Councilman Jamie Benoit, a frequent Leopold critic, said he plans to introduce legislation Monday night that would provide whistle-blower protection to county employees.

Benoit said he's "troubled" by the allegations. He said a criminal investigation has the potential to be a distraction to the executive.

"The county executive's position is that this was a limited incident," said Benoit, a Democrat. "If that's the case, then so be it. But the allegations are piling up."

Council Chairman Richard Ladd said he would reserve judgment.

"Let's wait and see what the facts are," said Ladd, a Severna Park Republican. "If he's done something wrong, the prosecutor will find that out and there are processes and mechanisms to deal with those types of things. If there's truth to it, it's unfortunate because there's a special trust we need to have in our political leadership at all levels."

Councilman John J. Grasso, a Republican from Glen Burnie, agreed with Leopold that the allegations represented retaliation for his political agenda.

"He's a very strong leader," said Grasso. "I think he serves the taxpayers well. And if he didn't serve the taxpayers well, they wouldn't keep electing him."

Sun reporter Andrea Siegel contributed to this report.

nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

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