Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold and his administration are facing new accusations that they destroyed documents, deployed spies to detect disloyalty and attempted to conceal misconduct in an office beset by sexual harassment.
An affidavit by a current employee was filed Wednesday in a gender discrimination suit that has alleged that Leopold made unwanted sexual advances and retaliated against women who complained about his conduct.
Carla Sagerholm, who has worked there for four years, described a sexually charged work environment where officials "appear very concerned that workers within the office will expose various practices and acts committed by these officials."
Her claims come as part of the civil suit filed by Karla Hamner, a former spokeswoman for Leopold who accuses him of orchestrating her firing from county government. Her suit spawned a second by Joan Harris, another former employee who alleged that Leopold fired her for helping Hamner build her case.
Leopold also faces separate criminal allegations that he misused his police detail, including by ordering officers to ferry him to sexual rendezvous in area parking lots.
The county executive's spokesman and the county attorney declined to comment on the affidavit. Leopold, 69, has denied wrongdoing throughout this case and others.
"I feel uncomfortable talking to Leopold because of his 'flirty' behavior toward women that he found attractive," according to the affidavit, in which Sagerholm described herself as a former swimwear model.
"It was widely known within the office that he liked blonde haired women with blue eyes and big breasts. Whenever Leopold talked to me and most other women, he did not look at their eyes or faces while talking to them but would talk to their 'boobs' while he stared at them."
Her affidavit said Leopold and top aides discouraged executive office workers from writing down anything important "unless it was immediately destroyed because they have cautioned us that all written documents are public records subject to being subpoenaed in a legal proceeding. I am aware that many records have been destroyed."
The document said she is now on medical leave because of post-traumatic stress disorder caused by "toxic" working conditions in Leopold's office. Those conditions, the affidavit said, have worsened since the lawsuits and the five-count misconduct indictment secured by the Maryland state prosecutor's office.
Reached at home Wednesday, Sagerholm declined to comment further.
Sagerholm's affidavit describes an atmosphere of sexual harassment by not just Leopold but also other men in the executive offices. In one example, she said Mark Chang, who works with Sagerholm in the Office of Community and Constituent Services, would stand right behind her, rub her shoulders and push his body against her chair.
When she complained to co-workers, other employees said they would ask a supervisor to handle it but not follow through or say that "we like to keep things in house," the affidavit said.
Chang said there have been no complaints filed against him and that he has hired an attorney to combat her claims.
"Everything that is stated about me is 100 percent a lie," he said. "Those are all false statements in there."
County officials would not publicly confirm whether any of Sagerholm's allegations were investigated.
Hamner's lawsuit has lingered for more than two years. District Judge Catherine C. Blake limited discovery to depositions of four police officers who said Leopold ordered Hamner's firing. In one ruling, Blake expressed concern about interfering with the criminal case. Hamner's attorney filed Sagerholm's affidavit as part of his argument to expand the discovery process.
Sagerholm said in the affidavit that she believed top employees were dispatched "to spy" and that women are "constantly watched for any behavior or acts that might reveal 'disloyalty' to them."
In the affidavit, Sagerholm said she heard Erik Robey, now Leopold's chief of staff, say that the administration planned to fire Harris.
"We know that Joan has talked to Karla Hamner's attorney and we're getting rid of her," Sagerholm's affidavit recalls Robey saying at the time. Reached Wednesday, Robey declined to comment.
Robey and Chang have hired T. Joseph Touhey, Jr., a Glen Burnie attorney, who said the claims against them are "categorically false" and he is considering legal action to counter them.
"They're two young men with impeccable credentials, and they're caught up in the public chase for John Leopold," Touhey said. "I see two young people who are very decent people. They just don't deserve this attack on them personally."
The affidavit repeated claims made earlier in Hamner's lawsuit that Leopold used binoculars to watch women entering the Arundel Center and then asked a security guard to procure phone numbers or dinner dates.
In the affidavit, Sagerholm describes launching her career as a swimwear model in San Diego, marrying a Naval Academy graduate who died in a 1987 plane crash and then returning to Annapolis when her son, Dane, attended the academy.
She said Robey called her "out of the blue" to offer her a job, and that they liked her because of her computer skills. Since 2008, she said, she worked in Leopold's executive office helping with constituent services.
Sagerholm said in the affidavit that at one point Leopold asked to see her modeling portfolio and he "especially wanted me to show him photos of me in a bathing suit. I did so."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun