City inspector general: Housing inspector hired, promoted despite criminal past

Housing commissioner defends decision, plans to loosen employee requirements

April 05, 2011|By Julie Scharper, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore housing officials hired a man as a housing inspector and promoted him to a supervisory position although he had been fired by the state Department of Corrections for forging sick leave forms and convicted of more than a dozen counts of theft, according to a report released Tuesday by the city's inspector general.

Algie C. Epps worked for the city Department of Housing and Community Development for five years after he was fired by the corrections department. He was promoted to assistant superintendent of code enforcement in spite of his criminal record, according to the report by city Inspector General David McClintock.

As a housing inspector, Epps was in a "position of trust" — a job that requires a background check. There is no indication that such a check was performed until more than two years after he was hired, McClintock reported. Police advised housing officials of Epps' criminal record in 2007, McClintock reported, but he was still promoted.

McClintock wrote that hiring and promoting employees to jobs for which they lack the qualifications "harms the integrity of the Civil Service and weakens our employees' trust in the system."

The city "must not permit any department or agency to place our system in abeyance at their choosing," McClintock wrote. "To do so would permit the exercise of authority without legitimate foundation."

City Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano defended his department's actions, writing in a letter to McClintock that "the Agency feels that we followed the required process."

A spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake described the report as "one of many examples of City agencies working with the new Inspector General's office to root out fraud, waste and abuse in government."

Rawlings-Blake hired McClintock shortly after she became mayor last year. In her State of the City address in February, she said she would increase funding for the Office of the Inspector General and hire an additional auditor and "create a new, innovative rewards program that incentivizes reporting of fraud and abuse."

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

O'Doherty wrote that Rawlings-Blake believes all housing inspectors must undergo background checks, in accordance with city policy on positions of trust.

McClintock declined to comment.

Epps was fired from his $51,000 position in February after McClintock told housing officials he had falsified his Social Security number, birth date and middle name on an application for a certification necessary for his position. Epps could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Epps, who was a lieutenant at the Maryland House of Correction in Jessup, was convicted in 2004 of 13 counts of theft and one count of conspiracy after he was found to have submitted 13 fraudulent sick leave slips to the Division of Corrections between 1996 and 2002, according to a 2004 press release from the office of the attorney general.

Epps was granted probation before judgment, according to a spokeswoman for the attorney general. He was ordered to repay the state more than $20,000 and given a 12-month suspended sentence, two years of probation and 100 hours of community service.

His wife, Sharon Epps, who was a hospital receptionist, also was convicted of theft charges, for providing the doctor's slips.

Graziano criticized McClintock for performing a "full-scale investigation" into a matter that he said "could have been addressed in one meeting."

Graziano said city regulations specify that criminal convictions should not be the "sole basis" for turning down a job applicant for a position of trust, a category that includes jobs in which employees handle money, access to sensitive or confidential information or work with children.

Housing inspectors scrutinize both the interior and exterior of homes to determine if they meet code standards and to check for unsanitary conditions.

Epps was hired as a housing inspector in October 2005, about a year and a half after he was arrested for faking the doctors' notes. The position required two years of experience as a housing inspector, which he did not appear to have, according to a November 2010 memo from the city human resources department.

There is no record of the housing department's submitting a criminal background check for Epps, according to the memo.

Epps was also required to become certified as a special enforcement officer within a year of being hired. According to the memo, he never received the certification.

Special enforcement officers, who have powers of arrest, must pass extensive background checks. Examples of special enforcement officers include park rangers and parking control officers.

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