- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 20, 2004

The indictment of former crime-control office chief Stephen Amos on charges of diverting $6.3 million in federal funds to pay staffers working on Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s staff could be the beginning of a new round of problems for Maryland Democrats. Two years ago, Democrats hooted down Bob Ehrlich, then the Republican gubernatorial candidate, for criticizing the problems at crime-control offices as part of a larger “culture of corruption” which characterized one-party Democratic rule in Maryland. For her part, Mrs. Townsend termed the investigation of the crime office “political garbage.” If the charges against Mr. Amos are proven true, the Democrats will owe apologies to the governor and U.S. Attorney Thomas DiBiagio.

The indictment charges Mr. Amos with using federal funds that were supposed to go for crime-fighting to pay 10 members of Mrs. Townsend’s existing staff (among them Deputy Chief of Staff Michael Sarbanes, son of Sen. Paul Sarbanes) and to add 40 additional persons to the crime office staff. According to the indictment, Mr. Amos attempted to conceal the misuse of funds by requiring grant recipients to put these employees on the payroll.

Although Mr. DiBiagio said Mrs. Townsend was unaware of Mr. Amos’ misuse of funds, the indictment raises serious questions about her performance in running the agency, known as the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention. (Mr. Ehrlich, who defeated Mrs. Townsend in the 2002 election, replaced Mr. Amos as head of the GOCCP shortly after taking office last year.) According to the indictment, the GOCCP, under Mr. Amos’ direction, used federal grant funds “that were supposed to pay for support of juvenile justice and local law enforcement efforts to pay the salaries of GOCCP staff members. To facilitate and cover up this diversion of federal criminal justice grant funds from their intended purposes, GOCCP required grant recipients … to agree to use GOCCP-provided grant money to hire persons who were carried on these entities’ payrolls as their employees, but who actually worked at GOCCP.”

The indictment charges that, under Mr. Amos’ direction, the GOCCP caused grant recipients to create records falsely listing the disguised GOCCP employees as “Faculty Research Assistants or similar titles.” If any of this is proven true in court, it would raise long-standing questions about Mrs. Townsend’s competence as Mr. Glendening’s crime czar to a new level. Why didn’t she know what was going on at GOCCP? Wasn’t it her business to be aware of how the money was being spent?

There are other questions about the GOCCP that deserve scrutiny. For example, two years ago, Mr. DiBiagio investigated federal grants awarded by the agency that were to have been spent on rehabilitating juvenile criminals in Prince George’s County. One of the programs, which GOCCP shut down after paying out $42,000 to settle claims by several people who said they had been employed there, had Delegate Joanne Benson chairing its board and state Sen. Gloria Lawlah’s daughter-in-law as its executive director. We look forward to hearing more from Mr. DiBiagio about this investigation as well.

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