Supervisor of city workers accused of gambling is suspended

Baltimore officials say criminal background checks not necessary for low-ranking workers

March 28, 2011|By Julie Scharper, The Baltimore Sun

The supervisor of the 13 city employees who were arrested last week after allegedly drinking alcohol and shooting dice during work hours at a transportation department shop has been suspended, officials said Monday.

Officials said that the workers, who included six men with significant criminal convictions, had not been subjected to criminal background checks before they were hired because they performed low-ranking jobs.

The city performs such checks when filling "positions of trust" — jobs that involve working with children, making high-level decisions, handling money or accessing private information, officials said.

A spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the policy had been supported by city leaders for years.

"The Mayor does not support discriminating against applicants for certain types of employment based solely on prior criminal history, but she will never tolerate unlawful behavior by any city employee," spokesman Ryan O'Doherty wrote in an email.

Acting on a tip from transportation officials, agents with the city inspector general's office burst into the break room of a maintenance shop in the 3200 block of E. Madison St. on Friday afternoon to find a ring of workers hunched over a dice game with bottles of Remy Champagne Cognac, Wild Irish Rose and Bud Ice beer nearby, according to police documents.

Michael Flowers, a 21-year veteran of the transportation department, appeared to be tossing dice as the agents opened the break room door, according to the documents. The workers scrambled to scoop money from the floor when the agents appeared.

Police say Flowers, 49, asked the agents for permission to use the bathroom, then "forcefully shoved and grabbed" a female agent. He was arrested by police who had arrived to back up the agents. Police confiscated $5,900 in cash from the break room and three sets of dice, according to the documents.

The workers, who make up half the unit that sets up for festivals and fairs, were charged with misdemeanor gambling offenses and suspended without pay.

Supervisor Frank J. Amonica, who was not present in the break room with the employees, also was suspended without pay Monday, a transportation department spokeswoman said. Spokeswoman Adrienne Barnes declined to detail the reason, saying it was a "personnel matter."

Amonica was taken to the city's Central Booking and Intake Center with the other employees but was released without being charged, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said.

Reached by phone Monday afternoon, Amonica said, "I have no comment, hon."

Amonica, who has worked for the city since 1975, is a transportation division chief with a $62,000 annual salary.

According to police, the afternoon craps games appear to be a payday tradition among the workers. Police say the workers were holding widely varying amounts of cash. Flowers had $1,670, while another had $89. Two workers did not have any money.

David McClintock, the city's inspector general, said he did not know when the payday dice games had begun or whether other workers had been involved. He is continuing to investigate.

High-ranking transportation officials, acting on a tip from an employee, had alerted his office to the gambling, he said.

The 26 workers in the special events unit set up stages, booths and equipment for the city's festivals, parades and events, Barnes said. They can spend three or four days preparing for larger festivals, such as Artscape and the African-American Heritage Festival, she said.

The workers also maintain and repair stages and other equipment and help out with snow removal, she said. Their workday generally begins at 8 a.m. and lasts until 4 p.m.

Five of those arrested were seasonal workers who were paid $7.90 an hour, but the majority were salaried employees who earned around $30,000 a year and had worked for the city for years.

O'Doherty said the arrests exemplified "one of many examples of city agencies working cooperatively with the new Inspector General's office to root out fraud, waste and abuse in government."

Rawlings-Blake appointed McClintock as inspector general shortly after she became mayor last year and boosted funding to the office this year.

Two workers from the Department of Public Works were disciplined a few months ago after McClintock's office found they had been drinking beer, hanging out at a liquor store and playing keno during work hours.

Last month, 17 police officers were arrested and 14 others suspended without pay after the FBI alleged that they had been taking kickbacks to route business to tow companies not licensed by the city.

McClintock said the most recent arrests could represent a generational shift from workers who began city employment at a time when managers turned a blind eye to behaviors such as gambling and drinking.

"It's a matter sometimes of an old school and a new school of thought," he said. "Sometimes this type of behavior in maintenance [shops] is more of a cultural issue. It might have been acceptable in times past."

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