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The Baltimore Sun

State says computer used to spread rumors is secured

The state computer used by an Ehrlich administration employee who was forced to resign after spreading Internet rumors about Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley has been secured, and some contents will be disclosed in coming days, Insurance Commissioner Alfred W. Redmer Jr. said yesterday.

For the first time, Redmer responded to questions about ex-employee Joseph F. Steffen Jr., testifying at a budget hearing in Annapolis.

Steffen cleared his desk Feb. 9 after acknowledging that he posted messages and exchanged private e-mails on a Web site, discussing rumors - denied by O'Malley - about the mayor's marriage.

A former congressional aide to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Steffen worked at two other state agencies before becoming communications director with the insurance administration.

Current and former employees at the Department of Human Resources and Department of Juvenile Services said Steffen compiled lists of workers to be fired and operated outside normal channels to communicate with the governor's office.

Yesterday, Del. Peter Franchot, a Montgomery County Democrat and vice chairman of an appropriations subcommittee, questioned why 50 of 288 employees at the insurance agency had been replaced since Ehrlich took office.

Redmer said Steffen was not involved in hiring and firing at the administration.

"People come and people go," Redmer said, adding that the insurance administration looks for candidates with specific expertise. "We don't have the opportunity, even if we wanted to, to be a dumping ground."

Redmer said e-mails and other communication on Steffen's work computer have been "reproduced" and are being sorted by an assistant attorney general. They will be forwarded to Jervis S. Finney, legal counsel to Ehrlich. Finney is conducting an investigation on the governor's behalf about Steffen's actions.

In a letter to Finney last month, Franchot asked whether the lawyer felt "any conflict in investigating Mr. Steffen," because of contact he might have had with the aide.

Finney said yesterday that he remembers returning a few telephone calls from Steffen months ago. He said he was not involved in coordinating or overseeing any activities Steffen was engaged in.

Staff writer Andrew A. Green contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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