David DeCarlo stands outside the Baltimore City Department… (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore…)
When police burst into a city transportation building last March and arrested nearly a dozen workers who they said were throwing dice and drinking cheap liquor, the raid grabbed headlines and triggered stern warnings from officials about "violations of the public trust."
But nearly a year later, the case has ended with prosecutors convicting just one person and dropping charges against all the others.
Seven workers whose criminal cases were not pursued have returned to their old jobs. Union officials say the city is appealing decisions by a civil service board to reinstate three others who won their cases at disciplinary hearings.
The employee who pleaded guilty to illegal gambling was fired, along with a supervisor who was not arrested but who police said had a nearly empty 12-pack of beer in his office refrigerator and an empty Bud Ice can in the trash can next to his desk.
But some of those arrested in the raid, at a transportation maintenance yard on East Madison Street, maintain they were innocent bystanders. Their continued unemployment, they say, is a lingering aftershock from what they call an overzealous and failed effort to root out corruption.
"It's like a bad dream," said David DeCarlo, who had worked for the city for nine years, first fixing parking meters and most recently building wooden stages for parade routes and festivals. He remains out of work, though he said he was eating chicken, not gambling, at the time of the raid.
"I'm suffering and my kids are suffering," said DeCarlo, who lives in his mother-in-law's house in Curtis Bay and lost a new apartment he and his family were about to move into before his arrest. "They probably had the worst Christmas they ever had."
The city state's attorney's office said some defendants accepted community service in exchange for charges being dropped. Spokesman Mark Cheshire said that "in some cases, we had insufficient evidence to proceed."
Baltimore Inspector General David McClintock, whose agents led the raid on a Friday afternoon, defended the police action and said he's not surprised that people are complaining. His job as the city's watchdog on fraud and abuse is to disrupt routines, he said, even illegal activities long accepted or ignored.
Regardless of how many people were convicted, McClintock said Monday, if gambling "was going on and it's not anymore, then it was worth it. … The day everybody is happy with what we're doing is the day we're not doing something right."
McClintock would not discuss specifics of the case but said a public report on the raid should be released in about five weeks.
"I think the whole thing was blown out of proportion," said Brandon Mead, who represented one of the men arrested. Prosecutors, he said, "didn't have anything, so they had to get rid of the charges. That's what justice desired."
He said his client, Franklin Fisher, was outside the transportation yard's break room when agents with the Inspector General's Office burst in. Mead said Fisher is one of the workers who got his job back.
The only employee convicted was Michael Flowers, 50, who pleaded guilty to one count of gaming and one count of assault on a police officer. He was given a seven-year suspended sentence and five years' probation. He now works for a private company, according to his lawyer.
Glen Middleton, who runs Local 44 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said supervisors had routinely looked the other way at payday office parties. The workers said they were having a cookout on the day of the raid. That cookout, according to police, included a craps game, bottles of Remy Champagne Cognac, Wild Irish Rose fortified wine and Bud Ice.
"Did authorities have to go to the extreme with using the police?" Middleton said, suggesting that administrative sanctions might have sufficed. "They treated this like a major drug bust, like these guys were running a criminal enterprise."
Middleton said whatever the workers were doing "pales in comparison to other things going on in the city. We're not saying that our members or city employees should be gambling, but the city made a huge mistake here. It's too late for these folks. They've lost a lot."
City officials point out that standards for returning to work are different from the burden prosecutors must meet to pursue criminal charges.
Adrienne Barnes, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation, declined to discuss the case beyond a statement saying that officials "reviewed each case on an individual basis. The determination and outcome of each employee was based on an internal investigation and decisions made by DOT officials. Because this is a personnel matter, we cannot comment any further on the specifics."
A Baltimore police officer assigned to the vice unit wrote the charging document filed in court, but the investigation was led by the Inspector General's Office.