More than a dozen city workers arrested, charged with drinking, gambling on duty

Tip to city officials led police to city office

March 26, 2011|By Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore authorities broke up what they described as a regular "payday" gambling game involving more than a dozen city transportation workers who police said were arrested Friday after being caught drinking champagne and playing dice in a city office.

The roundup occurred in a Department of Transportation building on East Madison Street and was sparked by a tip to city officials who contacted the inspector general's office, which investigates corruption, fraud and waste in city offices.

Agents from the inspector general's office went unannounced to the building Friday afternoon and called police when it became apparent that there was criminal activity. A city police spokesman said several workers scattered when agents arrived and one was charged with assaulting an investigator.

"Although these are not violent crimes, it's particularly egregious because it's a violation of the public trust," said the Baltimore Police Department's chief spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi. "These are city employees who are paid by the taxpayers, and they are expected to work. They shouldn't be gambling and drinking on the city's dime."

The 13 workers involved were described as relatively low-level employees assigned to the transportation department's Special Events unit. Their duties include setting up and working at area festivals. They were handcuffed and taken to the Central Booking and Intake Center.

Police said they charged each with misdemeanor gambling offenses and most were released on low bails or were still being processed Saturday. One worker, Michael Flowers, 68, was also charged with one count of assault.

A review of electronic court records shows that six of the employees have been convicted of serious criminal offenses, and one person is on probation in a gun possession case. Six workers have clean records, and a seventh has been arrested twice on assault charges but not convicted.

Three workers have extensive records, including one who has been convicted seven times between 1995 and 2009 on drug possession or drug distribution charges. He has served prison or jail time ranging from one day to four years, the records show.

Another worker has been convicted six times of drug offenses and twice of possessing a handgun, all between 2002 and 2009, according to the records. That worker served between two years and four years in prison. Yet another employee has been convicted five times of drug offenses between 1997 and 2004, serving between one year and five years in prison.

One employee has one conviction and was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2001 for drug distribution.

Adrienne Barnes, a spokeswoman for the city transportation department, said officials will review the backgrounds of the employees starting Monday. Records of when the workers were hired or whether any were convicted while employed by the city were not available over the weekend.

Many of the workers who were arrested appear to be seasonal help, earning no more than $15,000 a year, according to a database of city employee salaries for 2010. The two highest paid, according to the database, were two drivers who last year earned, with overtime, $37,000 and $49,000.

In Friday's case, Guglielmi said that the tipster had notified the transportation department, which in turned reported the allegation to the inspector general's office that workers were gambling each Friday, which is payday. The office sent agents to investigate, and "sure enough there was a gambling operation," the spokesman said.

Authorities said that the agents "observed several employees on duty throwing dice and consuming alcohol." They said the agents found a bottle of Remy champagne and cash in the middle of the office floor. They said $6,300 was seized.

The agents with the inspector's office do not have arrest powers. Guglielmi said that "a couple employees became unruly and a couple ran in different directions." The agents called city police, and officers from the Eastern District responded.

Barnes said the workers have been suspended without pay pending the results of an investigation. In a statement, she said that "any activity that undermines the integrity of the transportation department will not be tolerated."

Both Barnes and Guglielmi said this case demonstrates the city's ability "to police itself."

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