A current member of the Maryland House of Delegates was recently charged with numerous offenses according to a criminal information that was filed in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County. The information, which is a charging document filed by a state prosecutor, alleges that the lawmaker committed misconduct in office and theft through two separate scams that spanned more than a decade. One scam involved rent payments for the delegate’s district office, and the other involved office furniture reimbursements. The delegate, who represents portions of Baltimore County and Harford County, has apparently been under investigation for at least a year. His district office was searched by law enforcement back in September of 2021, though the State waited to issue a charging document until July of this year. Some fellow state lawmakers have called for the charged delegate to resign his position, though he has through his attorney denied any wrongdoing.
The rental scam began back in 2012 when the delegate moved his legislative office to a cottage near the Middle River in Essex. The cottage used to be located in his actual district, but redistricting took it to the neighboring district. This alone would not have been a major infraction, as lawmakers are permitted to maintain offices outside of their districts with approval. On the other hand, the conduct alleged to have occurred was far more than a simple infraction. According to the charging document the delegate chose a location for his district office that was next door to a unit he had been renting for several years as a so-called river cottage. The charging document alleges that the delegate stopped paying rent on his personal cottage in 2012 and paid double the market value for his adjacent district office starting at the same time. Since the district office was paid for with state funds from his rental allowance as a public official, the defendant is accused of using taxpayer money to fund his recreational second home. Prosecutors are also alleging that the actual district office unit was being used for personal enjoyment, as investigators found camping beds, pellet rifles, ammunition, clothing, coolers and skis when they executed their search warrant. The total amount of rent that the State paid for the defendant’s river cottage/district office was $92,800 over the course of ten years. Based on these allegations the delegate was charged with misconduct in office, which is a common law misdemeanor that carries no defined maximum penalty other than it must not be cruel and unusual punishment. He is also facing felony theft over $25,000 but less than $100,000 and fraudulent misappropriation by a fiduciary for using the state’s money to pay for his personal cottage.
As if the river cottage scheme wasn’t enough, the State is also alleging that the delegate stole taxpayer money through another scam involving an office furniture vendor. Allegedly the delegate instructed his chief of staff to pay for office furniture yet instruct the vendor not to actually order said furniture. The delegate then submitted for reimbursement from the state for amount he was charged, while also obtaining store credit for the items that were never ordered. This credit was then allegedly used to pay an invoice for campaign mailers, meaning the delegate used taxpayer money to indirectly fund his campaign. While the value of this scam was less than $2,500, the effort made to defraud the state will not sit well with a judge should the delegate be convicted of these additional theft and misconduct in office charges.
This case is being prosecuted by the Office of the State Prosecutor, which focuses on election law violations, ethics violations, bribery by public officials, misconduct in office, perjury, extortion and obstruction of justice. The office, which is located in Towson, is not as large as the Attorney General’s Office, but shares the same basic functions and powers. The Blog will continue to follow this case and may post another article after the case comes to some sort of resolution. Benjamin Herbst is a Maryland criminal defense lawyer who specializes in misconduct in office and theft charges in all state jurisdictions including Anne Arundel County, Harford County and Baltimore County. He has successfully defended several public officials in high profile cases for charges of bribery, misappropriation of funds and theft scheme, and is standing by to offer a free consultation about your case at 410-207-2598.