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Quick and Dirty

Dragnet

By Van Smith | Posted 6/8/2005

The Office of the Maryland State Prosecutor has been on a roll lately. Since the beginning of the year, Robert Rohrbaugh and his staff of two attorneys, six investigators, and four administrators have chalked up a succession of guilty pleas.

A Baltimore City Department of Public Works employee owned up to participating in a bribery scheme with city contractor All State Boiler Service Inc., whose owner, Gilbert Sapperstein, and two employees also pleaded guilty (“Hot Contract,” Mobtown Beat, Jan. 26). A bribery and embezzlement investigation of the city schools system also nabbed Sapperstein, and two other schools contractors, the father-son team of Melvin and James Duklewski. All three have pleaded guilty, and the school’s former maintenance manager, Rajiv Dixit, is headed for trial. Everyone who’s pled guilty is cooperating with the ongoing investigation.

The cherry on top of this impressive record of convictions is the office’s hardball approach to enforcing state elections laws. Since New Year’s rolled in, 15 political contributors have been fined for exceeding legal donation limits, and one candidate and 52 campaign officials have been charged with failing to file campaign-finance reports as required.

Rohrbaugh’s predecessor, Stephen Montanarelli, died a year ago after 20 years of heading the office, which targets public corruption, ethics violations, and election laws. For years, talk of “Montanerelli’s office” prompted ironically raised eyebrows—the outfit was considered toothless, hamstrung by a lack of prosecutorial might, because it lacks such fundamental tools as subpoena power, and because of its small budget. When indictments were handed down, the resulting cases—a bribery/extortion case in 1999 against former Baltimore City state Sen. Larry Young (D-44th District), for instance, or the wiretapping case against Linda Tripp in 2000—often didn’t hold water.

While the office’s inherent weaknesses haven’t been corrected since Rohrbaugh took over last summer, the results of its efforts sure have. Rohrbaugh was contacted for this article, but he declined to comment. (Van Smith)

Ms. Fix-It

When Elizabeth E.W. Kirk learned in January
that the Maryland SPCA’s “neuter scooter” mobile animal spay/neuter truck would be sidelined, she felt betrayed.

“‘Disappointed’ is not the strong enough word,” she says. Kirk, the longtime force behind the now-defunct nonprofit Animal Welfare League of Greater Baltimore Inc., had given her group’s last $200,000 to the Maryland SPCA to start the mobile neuter program when she closed down the league in 2000. The neuter scooter provided free spay and neuter services for the owners of cats and dogs living in Baltimore City. Kirk says the SPCA committed to running the scooter for four years, but she believed the organization would keep it going even after that contract expired.

“When we gave the money away, I did that feeling good,” Kirk says.

Now she’s aiming to revive the Animal Welfare League and start a new neuter program.

Un-fixed dogs and cats are a huge problem. The Municipal Animal Shelter destroys about 9,000 unwanted animals every year—15 per 1,000 of Baltimore’s human population. The problem, in part, stems from the lack of spay and neuter programs targeted toward low-income people.

Getting your dog neutered at the vet costs at least $150, Kirk says. Bringing a van into poor neighborhoods and requesting that people have their pets fixed (for free) is the only way to stem the tide of feral and unwanted dogs and cats, she adds. And only by doing that can the city hope to create better conditions at the city’s underfunded animal shelter. “What we want to do is figure out a way to work with the city again,” Kirk says.

Bob Anderson, director of the city animal shelter (now a quasipublic nonprofit corporation soon to be renamed the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter—BARCS), looks forward to Kirk’s help.

“I know the lady very well,” he says of Kirk, whose organization also spent more than $70,000 to air-condition the city animal control officers’ trucks about five years ago. “I’m glad to see her back in the business.”

Anderson says he hopes to meet with Kirk some time in mid-June, but he thinks the neuter scooter won’t be back soon.

“The scooter cost a lot more to run than a regular building,” he says.

Maryland SPCA executive director Aileen Gabbey says the scooter cost $200,000 per year to operate, and that the SPCA’s board decided to concentrate scarce dollars on more cost-effective ways of spaying and neutering—such as providing low-income pet owners with certificates good for a free fix. “We had a goal of doing 10,000 animals in Baltimore in four years,” she says. “We actually exceeded it. We did over 11,000 animals. And spent $600,000 of our own money in that time period” on the scooter. She says she has invited Kirk to work with the SPCA to find new solutions.

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