A top Baltimore County school system official has pleaded guilty to a federal felony charge after prosecutors alleged he accepted bribes from undercover FBI employees posing as out-of-town businessmen, court documents show.
Robert J. Barrett worked as an executive officer in community and government relations for the school system before retiring Thursday. His attorney, Robert Bonsib of Greenbelt, declined to comment Saturday.
The FBI began investigating Barrett before 2013, according to a plea agreement filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. In 2011 and 2012, prosecutors allege, Barrett received a combined $22,500 in checks from two separate local businessmen.
The FBI had two undercover employees pose as out-of-town businessmen in 2013 “looking for business opportunities in the Baltimore area.”
The undercover employees paid Barrett $22,000 in cash over the course of 2013 in exchange for Barrett writing bogus recommendations on school system letterhead praising the undercover employees’ businesses for their work with the school system, according to the plea agreement. The supposed businesses had not done any actual work with the school system.
Barrett also gave a presentation in 2013 to potential investors in Arizona on behalf of the undercover employees’ companies. The potential investors were actually undercover agents. Barrett claimed during the presentation that he worked with the companies on a senior housing project, which was false, according to the plea agreement.
At the same time, Barrett continued to receive money — a total of $10,000 more in checks in 2013 — from the two local businessmen. They were not identified in the plea agreement.
Prosecutors allege that Barrett underreported his income on his tax returns in 2011, 2012 and 2013. They say some of his income “was derived from criminal activity.”
As part of the agreement, Barrett pleaded guilty in September to a felony charge of filing a false tax return.
Barrett frequently attended meetings of the Baltimore County Council and of the county’s state lawmakers in Annapolis. He is listed as a member of the staff of the school system’s foundation.
Mychael Dickerson, a school system spokesman, said Barrett retired effective Thursday. He had given several weeks of notice.
Asked if the school system was aware of Barrett’s guilty plea, Dickerson said: “No. Absolutely not.” He declined to comment further.
Barrett, who lives in Upperco in northern Baltimore County, began working for the school system in 2010. Prior to that, he was director of Baltimore County’s Department of Recreation and Parks from 2003 until 2010 under then-County Executive Jim Smith. Smith is now a top adviser to Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh.
Barrett also worked as an adviser and campaign manager for former County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who is now serving his eighth term in Congress.
Sentencing is scheduled for May. Barrett faces up to three years in prison and a fine of $250,000 or twice the amount of money involved in the case, whichever is greater, according to the plea agreement.
Barrett’s guilty plea was first reported by the website Maryland Matters.
Barrett’s former boss, former county schools Superintendent Dallas Dance, is scheduled to go on trial in Baltimore County Circuit Court next week on four counts of perjury.
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Dance is accused of failing to report nearly $147,000 in consulting income on financial disclosure forms. Dance’s outside income included $90,000 that he was paid by a firm called SUPES Academy at the same time he negotiated a no-bid contract between the company and the school system in 2012.