Ex-Md. prison of­fi­cials as­sail fir­ings

Their dis­missals harm fight against cor­rup­tion, they say; Moyer de­fends ousters

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Michael Dresser mdresser@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/michaelt­dresser

Top of­fi­cials fired last week by the de­part­ment that runs Mary­land’s prison sys­tem said their for­mer unit’s abil­ity to in­ves­ti­gate cor­rup­tion is be­ing thwarted amid in­nu­endo and bu­reau­cratic in­fight­ing.

Steve Geppi and De­bra Gon­za­lez Morin ran the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tions at the De­part­ment of Pub­lic Safety and Cor­rec­tional Ser­vices. They told The Bal­ti­more Sun they were sus­pended just one week af­ter they played key roles in putting to­gether a case in which 80 peo­ple — in­clud­ing 18 cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers — were charged with cor­rup­tion at a prison on the Eastern Shore.

Geppi and Gon­za­lez Morin said they re­ceived no ex­pla­na­tion when they were fired about two weeks later by Sec­re­tary Stephen T. Moyer. They con­tend they were brought down by base­less al­le­ga­tions of an in­ap­pro­pri­ate sex­ual re­la­tion­ship.

“For me, that shows a lack of back­bone at the very top,” said Geppi, a 24-year vet­eran of the Mary­land State Po­lice who said he was hired by Moyer with the charge of elim­i­nat­ing cor­rup­tion in the scan­dal-plagued prison sys­tem. “When­the go­ing got rough, he caved in at the knees.”

Gon­za­lez Morin, a 16-year vet­eran of the de­part­ment who had run the in­tel­li­gence unit since 2013, said seven other mem­bers of her team have since been put on ad­min­is­tra­tive leave.

State per­son­nel law for­bids de­part­ment of­fi­cials to ex­plain dis­ci­plinary ac­tions against em­ploy­ees. The sec­re­tary de­clined to be in­ter­viewed but re­leased a state­ment.

“Man­age­ment must be held to the same high stan­dards as any other mem­ber of this de­part­ment. In fact, they should be held to a higher stan­dard be­cause of their level of re­spon­si­bil­ity,” Moyer said. “Our for­mer em­ploy­ees ab­so­lutely know the al­le­ga­tions against them and un­der­stood that they served at the will of the sec­re­tary.”

He de­nied the fir­ings and sus­pen­sion would hurt anti-cor­rup­tion ef­forts.

Doug Mayer, a spokesman for Gov. Larry Ho­gan, said the gov­er­nor stands be­hind Moyer.

“The sec­re­tary has the green light from the gov­er­nor to han­dle al­le­ga­tions of mis­con­duct in the man­ner he feels is most ap­pro­pri­ate, es­pe­cially al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual mis­con­duct,” Mayer said.

Moyer, a for­mer Mary­land State Po­lice lieu­tenant colonel, was brought in when Ho­gan took of­fice in Jan­uary 2015 with a man­date to clean up cor­rup­tion.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion at the Eastern Cor­rec­tional In­sti­tu­tion found ev­i­dence of a con­spir­acy to smug­gle con­tra­band in­clud­ing heroin, co­caine, cell­phones and pornog­ra­phy into the Som­er­set County prison. Pros­e­cu­tors charged that 18 cor­rec­tions of­fi­cers, 35 in­mates and 27 oth­ers took part in the scheme. The in­dict­ment ac­cuses of­fi­cers of tak­ing bribes and in some cases hav­ing sex with in­mates.

Geppi, 64, said he and Gon­za­les Morin, 51, were staunch al­lies in the ef­fort to root out cor­rup­tion. They in­sist they are noth­ing more than friends and col­leagues.

The two said they were sur­prised Oct. 11 when they were put on ad­min­is­tra­tive leave amid re­ports of un­spec­i­fied mis­con­duct. Geppi said his team was praised and ap­plauded at a meet­ing with Moyer that morn­ing for their role in the ECI in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Both said that while sus­pended, they were in­ter­ro­gated by David Kitzinger, com­man­der of the Mary­land State Po­lice in­ter­nal af­fairs unit. Geppi and Gon­za­lez Morin said ques­tions fo­cused on the night of Oct. 4 at a ho­tel out­side Sal­is­bury, where fed­eral and state law en­force­ment of­fi­cers slated to take part in ar­rests the next day gath­ered to pre­pare.

Geppi and Gon­za­lez Morin said the in­ves­ti­ga­tor asked them about an al­leged sex party. They said he asked about drink­ing that night and about roomas­sign­ments. Gon­za­lez Morin said she was asked how many times she used an ac­cess door to a room ad­join­ing her own — one she said she hadn’t no­ticed.

Both said they com­mit­ted no sex­ual mis­con­duct and knew of none in­volv­ing team mem­bers.

Greg Ship­ley, spokesman for the Mary­land State Po­lice, said an in­ves­ti­ga­tion is con­tin­u­ing and that he could not com­ment on any find­ings.

Geppi said ten­sions had been grow­ing be­tween him­self and the pub­lic safety de­part­ment’s in­ter­nal af­fairs divi­sion. He said he be­lieved it was not shoul­der­ing a suf­fi­cient caseload. He­said Gon­za­les Morin’s stepped-up vet­ting of of­fi­cers in line for pro­mo­tions had gen­er­ated more cases that re­quired in­ves­ti­ga­tion, lead­ing to re­sent­ment.

Moyer said Mon­day that David A. Reitz, a Bal­ti­more Po­lice De­part­ment colonel who has man­aged the de­part­ment’s In­ves­tiga­tive and In­tel­li­gence Bureau, has been hired to re­place Geppi as chief in­ves­ti­ga­tor.

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