Baltimore City Inspector General's Office finally releases report detailing two years' worth of work
The Baltimore City Department of Housing quietly reorganized its building-inspections division last year, firing two inspectors who were caught not doing their jobs. Meanwhile, two employees of the Department of General Services were fired for stealing scrap copper from city buildings, and a high level transportation official resigned after an ill-gotten boat was discovered in his back yard.
These are some of the highlights of Baltimore Inspector General Hilton Green's annual report, which was posted online recently and is dated Feb. 23, 2009. The report, which by law was due in the fall of 2007, packs more than two years' worth of investigations into one somewhat cryptic compendium. It depicts a city agency with just three or four investigators taking on cases both large and small. It focuses on the investigations that recovered allegedly stolen money for the city, or that cost city employees their jobs.
The inspector general's office was created by former Mayor Martin O'Malley in 2005 and tasked with overseeing the entire city government. The inspector general audits the books and investigates allegations of malfeasance, rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse in city agencies and sometimes referring cases for criminal prosecution.
The annual report does not disclose the names of those caught cheating, or stealing, or just goldbricking. But some details appear telling. For example, Green undertook one of his smallest cases at the suggestion of Mayor Sheila Dixon.
That case, which Green handled personally, involved a $48.96 expense check that was deposited by the wrong city employee into his own account. "On my initial meeting with the Mayor, she requested that an investigation be conducted to determine how one of the Council member's employee's travel checks had been stolen/cashed by person(s) unknown (presumably in City Hall)," the annual report says. "Because the check was less than $100.00, a low priority had been placed on this matter in the past and no action had been taken. My vision in this matter was to change and make this a priority because it occurred in City Hall."
City Paper reported on that case in 2007 ("Watching the Inspectors," Feature, Nov. 7, 2007), after learning that the employee claimed he had made a careless error, signing the backs of two reimbursement checks that had been sent to him stapled together, without noticing that one of them was made out to someone else. Green forced the employee from his city job over the matter, and the employee thought he lost his job in part because he was trying to help investigators looking into allegations of shoddy and corrupt building-code inspections--an investigation that had stalled after Dixon replaced former Inspector General Andrew Clemmons with Green.
Green denies the two issues are connected.
Dixon was indicted last year on unrelated theft and bribery charges, and is awaiting trial.
Green told City Council members in May 2007 that he had assembled a "federal task force" to investigate the building-code issues, which included allegations of improper demolition, un-permitted construction, and multiple building collapses. As of late 2007, the task force did not exist, and Green told City Paper then that preliminary findings were "all administrative," meaning they did not rise to the level of criminal acts, and so did not warrant further investigation by his office.
Soon after that, he changed his mind.
According to his report, "A joint task force using Housing Specialists was created in January 2008 to examine allegations of faulty inspections performed at numerous properties in the 'Little Italy' area of the City. The investigation resulted in two inspectors being terminated for filing inaccurate reports and the re-organization of the Inspections Division."
"When we started the investigation they had suspended them without pay," Green says in an interview. "They were terminated but they appealed."
Green says the investigation would have been broader but for his office's limited resources, and health problems he suffered in 2008. "I would have preferred to have it a lot larger than it was," says Green, "but because I was out, it didn't get run the way I would have preferred."
A Baltimore Housing spokeswoman declined to describe the reorganization of the division or divulge a list of the city's building inspectors without a formal request under the Maryland Public Information Act. That request was pending at press time.
Another investigation that began before Green took the helm involved the theft of copper tubing and wire from the old court house and several city buildings. City Paper received a tip about the thefts in 2007, but was unable to confirm it. At the time, Baltimore City Circuit Court Clerk Frank M. Conaway said he knew nothing about any thefts.
But apparently, stealing copper for sale to scrap-metal dealers was a popular pastime for some city employees. "We had more than one copper case," Green says. "One in which individuals were dismissed from city government." He says that case, involving theft of copper from a former city Health Department building, was referred for criminal prosecution, where it is still pending--but unlikely to be charged. "The big question is--could we prove where the copper came from--how do you ID copper?"
Green says the courthouse thefts were not prosecuted because of that problem.
Green says the copper cases brought his office face-to-face with the city's violent "stop snitching" culture. Witnesses in one of the copper cases were "threatened with bodily harm if they told on" the suspects. "We were very concerned," Green says. "We take threats very seriously."
One of the inspector general's few cases that generated sustained media interest involved a deputy transportation director, Anthony Wallnofer, and a small boat bought at a city auction for $1,900. Wallnofer oversaw the auctions, and wrote a rule forbidding transportation employees from participating in the auction or buying auctioned items subsequently. The boat in question was purchased by Frankford Towing and apparently resold to Wallnofer, who resigned over the matter.
One major case that made news was not included in the report because, Green says, his case report was not completed in time for the annual report. It involves the shooting death of Robert Clay, the prominent minority contractor who was found dead of a gunshot wound to his head in 2005. The case was ruled a suicide, but Clay's family and friends don't believe it, and point to inconsistencies between the evidence and what they know about Clay.
Several of Clay's family members told reporter Steve Janis of the internet-based Investigative Voice that U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D) would "hand deliver" a copy of Green's report to the Justice Department and ask for a new investigation, Janis reported.
"This is causing a lot of ripples," Green says. "The reason I haven't made any comment on it is it's going to Justice with Cummings."
Strangely, Cummings' office was not informed of this. "The Congressman was never asked to deliver the report," says Cummings spokeswoman Jennifer Kohl. "And the IG has the authority to do it himself."
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