Leopold indicted on charges of using police detail for political gain

ElectionsPoliticsJustice SystemCrime, Law and JusticePublic OfficialsAnne Arundel County

Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold has been charged with using his taxpayer-funded police detail to help secure his re-election, run personal errands, keep his affair with a county employee private and drive him to frequent sexual rendezvous, according to an indictment handed down Friday by a grand jury.

Leopold, a Republican, was charged with four counts of misconduct in office and one count of fraudulent misappropriation of county funds, charges that come after a yearlong investigation by the state prosecutor. If convicted of all misdemeanor charges, the 69-year-old Pasadena resident could face at least one year in jail.

"Public officials criminally abuse their public trust when they treat public resources as their personal property and public personnel as their personal servants," Maryland State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt said in a statement. "These abuses will not be tolerated."

In a telephone interview after the indictment was announced, Leopold vowed to fight the charges, saying he would not step down. He declined to comment on the specific allegations, but his attorney criticized the state prosecutor's decision to include such graphic detail in the indictment.

"The citizens of the county can look at my decades-long record of public service and know that I've always put the interest of the taxpayers first," said Leopold. "I would ask my fellow citizens to reserve judgment until both sides of the story can be heard. … I'm confident that when the citizens hear both sides of the story and hear all the facts, they'll have a complete and full account and we will prevail."

The indictment lists some bizarre allegations — including that the county executive ordered his security detail to empty his urine catheter after an operation. He was also accused of having the officers drive him to meet a female county employee for sexual encounters in a vehicle parked in public places up to three times weekly.

Many of the charges included in the nine-page indictment focus on Leopold's 2010 re-election campaign. According to the document, Leopold directed the officers to investigate his political opponents and prepare dossiers, to collect campaign contributions in and out of the county, and to deposit them at the bank during their working hours.

Additionally, he used county employees for personal errands, according to the indictment, instructing them to deliver newspapers and take-out dinners to his home on weekends, and to purchase and deliver gifts from Leopold to others.

The officers were also deeply involved in his personal life, the indictment says. Leopold is accused of ordering a member of the detail to work more than 170 hours of overtime during his two hospitalizations in Februrary and July 2010 for back surgery. The goal, according to the document, was to keep Leopold's live-in girlfriend Jane Miller from running into Constance Casalena, an assistant planner at the Department of Recreation and Parks with whom Leopold had an "intimate relationship." The overtime cost the county more than $10,000.

Reached at her office, Casalena declined to comment. Miller, who has sometimes accompanied Leopold during official public appearances, could not be reached.

Leopold's attorney, Bruce L. Marcus, criticized the prosecutor's office in a written statement, calling the allegations "scurrilous, salacious and scandalous" and saying they would be "better suited to cheap tabloids and not befitting charging documents filed in a Maryland court of law."

Marcus said the prosecutor's office included detailed information beyond the crimes alleged, raising questions about the "motives, manner and methods underlying the prosecution."

"Those who believe in, and hold sacred the importance of a fair judicial process must question the reasons and motivation for littering the public record with unseemly and wholly unnecessary allegations unrelated to the crimes charged," the statement says.

Leopold was not arrested. His attorney was issued a criminal summons for Leopold to appear for an arraignment on the charges on March 26.

Davitt, who was appointed by Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, was unavailable for an interview Friday. James I. Cabezas, the state prosecutor's chief investigator, said close to 99 percent of the cases that the office investigates are "complaint-driven."

"There has never been a prosecution from this office that was politically driven," he said.

David B. Irwin, a Towson attorney who defended Edward T. Norris when he was indicted for misusing police funds while head of the Baltimore Police Department, said Leopold basically has two defenses. He can either say he didn't commit the crimes, or that he had a right to engage in the behavior in the indictment.

"Do these alleged abuses rise to a criminal offense? That's going to be the ultimate issue that a judge and a jury will have to decide," said Irwin.

He said it's common for prosecutors to include as much detail as possible about a public official's alleged transgressions. Prosecutors, in delving into details of how public officials' personal lives intersect with their jobs, "want to show it really is abusive of the public trust," said Irwin. "I don't think they're intentionally trying to embarrass someone or sway a jury, because when you go against a public official, you've got to have all the goods."

In the Norris prosecution, federal prosecutors alleged that Norris used an off-the-books police expense fund to finance encounters with several women. Norris pleaded guilty in 2004 to conspiring to misuse money from the fund, and lying on tax returns.

Democratic Councilman Chris Trumbauer of Annapolis said in a statement he was saddened by the news of the indictment.

"Should these allegations prove to be true, it will be yet another example of someone in power betraying the public's trust. I have very little tolerance for scandal and corruption in public office."

Council Chairman Derek Fink, a Pasadena Republican, and the council's other Republicans declined to comment.

The indictment followed an investigation into Leopold's use of his county-funded police security detail that came to light last March. About a dozen county employees — including Police Chief Col. James E. Teare Sr. and officers from the detail — testified before a county grand jury over the course of the inquiry. Teare could not be reached for comment.

Leopold, who was first elected in 2006 and is term-limited, has spoken in recent months about a desire to continue a political career following his term as county executive. Leopold served for two decades in the House of Delegates before he was elected county executive, and has said he is considering running in 2014 for governor, comptroller or the state Senate.

According to the county code, a county executive convicted of a crime involving "moral turpitude, of misfeasance or malfeasance in office" can be removed from office by a vote of the County Council.

Dan Nataf, the director of the Center for the Study of Local Issues at Anne Arundel Community College, said the allegations put Leopold in an "awkward situation," of continuing to govern while being the subject of salacious gossip.

"It's just a pall that is cast upon the administration and him personally," said Nataf. "As this case unfurls, it will be bump after bump on his PR road."

The indictment comes at a tough time for Leopold. Last month, his top adviser died of a heart attack. Dennis M. Callahan had served as the county's chief administrative officer since Leopold was elected in 2006. During a memorial service for Callahan, Leopold said in his nearly 40 years in politics, Callahan was his closest adviser.

Leopold, a Philadelphia native who served in the Hawaii Legislature for eight years and ran for governor unsuccessfully there in 1978 before settling in Maryland, has earned supporters for his attention to constituent services.

His critics, however, have criticized his political style as aloof and have pointed to a series of allegations of sexual harassment and impropriety as a threat to a continued career in politics.

The existence of the investigation was revealed publicly when the president of the county's firefighters union, Craig Oldershaw, said he was interviewed by an investigator from the state prosecutor's office after Leopold's security detail had picked up from him a $4,000 check — a campaign contribution from the union to Leopold's 2010 re-election campaign.

"I think it's a sad day for the residents of Anne Arundel County," Oldershaw said Friday. "We are now lumped in with likes of allegations of political corruption in Baltimore and Prince George's County."

Leopold said last year that as he campaigned for re-election he struggled with pain as a result of two back surgeries. Leopold has said he relied more heavily on his staff to perform personal chores, though he acknowledged he should have probably picked up the campaign check himself.

The indictment paints a picture of a politician obsessed with winning his 2010 re-election campaign. He allegedly directed his detail to transport him in the early-morning hours to places where his opponent had hung campaign signs. Leopold, according to the indictment, would get out of the car himself and pull the signs out of the ground.

The indictment also alleges that members of the security detail, on several occasions, complained to their superiors that Leopold had directed them to conduct campaign work, but the police brass, including Teare, who testified before the grand jury last year, took "no effective action."

Leopold allegedly directed the officers to compile dossiers on his Democratic opponent for county executive, Joanna L. Conti, a business executive. A perpetual critic, Carl O. Snowden, the director of the Office of Civil Rights for the state attorney general, was also targeted for research, the indictment says.

Snowden, a former aide to Leopold's predecessor, said he was disturbed to learn from the indictment that he was on Leopold's alleged enemies list. He said Leopold had publicly accused him of leaking information to the news media about Leopold's alleged sexual encounters — an accusation that Snowden denied.

"To be honest with you, it [the indictment] smacks of Watergate in the worst kind of way," Snowden said. "I thought we had gotten beyond political leaders developing enemies lists and using the force of their office to hurt people. I was surprised."

Conti also said she was contacted by an investigator about allegations that Leopold may have directed members of his security detail to remove Conti's campaign signs, but said then that she had no proof.

Conti said Friday that Leopold should step down if the charges are true.

"It's pathetic that with all the serious problems facing our county John Leopold was spending his time throwing away my signs," said Conti. "And I found it outrageous that Mr. Leopold was requiring our trained police officers to wait for him while he had sex in various parking lots on multiple occasions and to empty his catheter. Can you believe that?

"If these charges are true, Mr. Leopold is not fit to hold office and should resign immediately."

Leopold, who is not married, is also the subject of a pending $10 million federal lawsuit filed by a female former county employee, accusing Leopold of retaliatory termination and creating a hostile work environment.

The former employee, Karla R. Hamner, worked for Leopold for more than a year in 2008. Hamner alleges Leopold made unwanted sexual advances toward her and once grabbed her by her arms and screamed at her because he disliked her hairstyle. She said she complained through official sanctions, was transferred to the police Department and ultimately fired. He denies any wrongdoing.

Leopold has also been dogged by an incident in 2009 when a 911 caller told dispatchers that he had seen "naked people" in a black Chevrolet parked near Nordstrom, which turned out to be Leopold's county-issued car. Leopold was in the back seat of the Chevrolet Impala, which bears the plates "County Executive 1," and police said the call was "unfounded."

The County Council called the police chief before the body to explain the situation. Leopold dismissed whispers over the incident as a "political circus."

Sun reporters Gus G. Sentementes, Andrea F. Siegel and Yvonne Wenger contributed to this report.

nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

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