LOYALTY'S REWARD Governor's bodyguard rises to acting boss of state police force

THE BALTIMORE SUN

When Gov. Marvin Mandel was forced from the State House after his 1977 federal convictions, state police Sgt. Larry W. Tolliver took three days off to help the suspended governor load a moving van with furniture and goods from the mansion. Some of it belonged to the citizens of Maryland.

"We just did what we were told," Mr. Tolliver said to investigators from the attorney general's office in 1979, as the state lawyers were preparing a civil suit against Mr. Mandel and his wife, Jeanne, to recover the property.

Last fall, as a captain and head of the security detail for Gov. William Donald Schaefer, Mr. Tolliver angered his state police superiors by shrugging off orders to cut back overtime for the governor's mansion detail.

Though troopers elsewhere were forced to hold the line -- even curtailing criminal investigations -- Mr. Tolliver continued awarding overtime to his staff because, he said, the governor and other top officials needed their services.

It is that devotion to his bosses that has helped catapult him to his new position as Col. Larry Tolliver, acting superintendent of the Maryland State Police -- an appointment that sparked criticism from some troopers, legislators and state officials, who questioned his qualifications.

Over the years, the 25-year state police veteran has made himself indispensable to those who run the state. For Mr. Schaefer, he has been a supreme loyalist who led the palace guard as captain of the 29-trooper executive protection division.

Mr. Tolliver, 46, is a strapping, affable, good old boy with a hint of a Kentucky drawl, quick with a smile and a handshake. He has a gift for becoming close to his bosses and seems to genuinely seek their friendship.

State officials say his closeness to Mr. Schaefer can be attributed to his willingness to go beyond what is expected of a police bodyguard, to blur the line that delineates duties of those troopers as signed to protect the governor.

Under Mr. Schaefer, according to state officials and troopers, Mr. Tolliver saw to it that meals prepared at the mansion were ferried by troopers to Baltimore's Good Samaritan Hospital when the governor's companion, Hilda Mae Snoops, was there last summer. He saw to it that troopers delivered packages and ran errands for her. And he transferred several troopers off the mansion security detail after she complained about them.

"The thing about Larry is that he's a big son of a gun and always has a smile on his face, and he's always very helpful -- and in politics, that counts for a lot," said Frank A. DeFilippo, who was Mr. Mandel's press secretary. "And this is not non-political. The whole goddamned thing is politics. I mean, who's kidding who?"

In a recent interview, Mr. Tolliver defended his qualifications to run the agency, explained his relationships with the political elite and made it clear that he wants to stick in the job at least until Mr. Schaefer, his lame-duck boss and current patron saint, leaves office in 1994.

He bristles at the suggestion by troopers, legislators and state officials that his role as leader of the executive protection division -- referred to derisively in state police circles as "the glamour squad" -- has been little more than that of "door holder" and driver for the politically powerful.

"We're not errand boys, and we're not lackeys," he said. "Larry Tolliver's not anyone's lackey." He declined to talk about his dealings at the governor's mansion. "I'm not going to comment on the protective mode of the governor -- and that includes everything that surrounds him."

He is an unusual candidate for superintendent, particularly when compared to his predecessors, such as Elmer H. Tippett Jr., a former deputy chief of the Prince George's County Police Department, and George B. Brosan, former head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's Baltimore office.

Mr. Tolliver has not ranked high on promotional exams, the measure of a trooper's knowledge of police work. In 1988, he was promoted to first lieutenant from the bottom of a promotional list, where he was ranked 31st. Two years later he was promoted to captain when he was 22nd on a 27-trooper list.

He has taken community college courses in police administration and in the mid-1980s studied to be a mortician, which he once considered as a second career.

Aside from guarding three governors, Mr. Tolliver has served a five-year stint as a road trooper and an eight-year hitch at the agency's supply depot in Waterloo -- first as assistant commander, later as commander, managing an $11 million purchasing operation and overseeing 20 employees, only two of them troopers.

Now he finds himself the head of an agency with an annual budget of $184 million and nearly 2,500 troopers and civilians. He faces an enormous task in trying to reshape and redirect a department demoralized by budget cuts and a waning sense of purpose.

Yet it is Mr. Tolliver's ability to cajole and coddle that some officials and troopers believe makes him the best choice for the job under Mr. Schaefer.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. wrote a letter supporting Mr. Tolliver because he said he did not believe the state could attract a "top-flight" candidate from the outside because of budget-related salary constraints and the short tenure under Mr. Schaefer, whose term is up in 1994.

"In these very difficult financial times, I think the chief problem with the Maryland State Police is morale, and what we need as the head of the [agency] is someone who has confidence of the governor so that when he asks for support for the troops, he can count on the governor's backing," the Prince George's County Democrat said.

"There's no question there's no person closer to William Donald Schaefer than Colonel Tolliver," he said. The Senate president said Mr. Tolliver "needed help to do the job" but asserted that "he's not afraid of hiring people of superior abilities to help do the job correctly."

Mr. Schaefer has repeatedly expressed confidence in Mr. Tolliver's talents and defended his decision to name his former bodyguard to head the state police, at least on a temporary basis.

"I would appoint him now and take away the term 'acting.' But I think we'll go through the process" of a nationwide search for a permanent chief, the governor said last week.

"I had observed him over a period of time. I saw his ability as an executive; I saw his ability as an 'action' policeman," the governor said.

In 1972, five years after joining the department, Mr. Tolliver got his first break by being assigned to the executive protection division, providing security for then-Governor Mandel. The two formed a lasting friendship that ultimately would play a part in landing him the state's top police job.

"Our personalities clicked. We got along. He was a teacher to me. I learned a lot from him," said Mr. Tolliver, once Mr. Mandel's regular racquetball partner.

When Mr. Mandel was suspended from office following his federal racketeering and mail fraud convictions (which were overturned on appeal after he had served 19 months in prison), it was Larry Tolliver who volunteered to help him move from the governor's mansion in September 1977.

"Governor Mandel never asked Larry Tolliver to compromise himself," said the acting superintendent, who often refers to himself in the third person. "He was ill. Things were down in his life, and Larry saw a chance to do something for him, and I did. I have no regrets."

At the time a sergeant, Mr. Tolliver took charge of moving up to eight truckloads of furniture and goods from Government House to the Mandels' private residence, according to previously closed investigatory files of the attorney general recently released to The Sun under a public information act request.

Two years later, after the attorney general launched an investigation into the matter, Mr. Tolliver said he did not know what property was state-owned but added, "You know, and I know, some of the things in the mansion belonged to the mansion, or whatever. So they pointed to me what they wanted to take."

A rather inglorious moment in Maryland's political history, the matter with the Mandels was resolved four years later when the former governor returned some of the furniture and agreed to reimburse the state nearly $10,000 in a settlement.

When Harry Hughes took office as governor, he cleaned house in Mr. Mandel's security detail. Mr. Tolliver was reassigned to the state police supply division in Waterloo -- a posting he now counts as his strongest administrative experience.

Former colleagues and associates, however, see his ability to get along with others -- and his loyalty -- as his strengths.

"His greatest managerial skills are his people skills. Maybe that comes out as politics, but he's really a people person," said Warner I. Sumpter, a former trooper and colleague in the State House.

"He's trustworthy to whoever he works with or for. If he was working for you, you had his loyalty. . . . If he doesn't agree with you, he's going to tell you, but he's going to tell you in a way that's not going to alienate you."

But Mr. Tolliver's orders to take photos of protesters at the State House in the last year have alienated more than a few in Annapolis and around the state -- among them, Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, who raised concerns about what he believes to be the pervasive "cavalier attitude of doing anything at anyone's order" among Mr. Schaefer's loyalists.

"I wish him well . . . but it is important for him to understand that the Maryland State Police, with regard to enforcing the law, is superior to every elected official," said Mr. Steinberg, who is himself increasingly estranged from Mr. Schaefer. "And if any dTC governor or lieutenant governor would give an order that is against the law, he should remind the governor that he is not above the law."

Mr. Tolliver admits that he is an extremely loyal soldier, but he dismisses any words of caution by Mr. Steinberg, saying, "I wouldn't do anything against the law for anybody."

Troopers who have worked with him say that he has deep pride in the state police and would not do anything but push the agency ahead.

"He may not have been a barrack commander or troop commander, but he's got plenty of savvy when it comes to knowing what needs to be done," said Detective Sgt. Thomas Y. Ingram of the Forestville Barracks, an old friend of the new superintendent who worked with him in the governor's security detail during the Mandel years.

"He still has a tough job ahead of him, but maybe Larry can do a better job than the others who were considered because of his relationship with the governor and his knowledge of state government."

Mr. Tolliver emerged unscathed during the overtime dilemma his unit faced last fall -- a year that saw the 29-member detail spend $189,850 for work beyond the eight-hour day. Mr. Tolliver has reduced that cost "drastically," he said.

But at the height of the budget crisis, when two barracks were closed and trooper layoffs were proposed, Mr. Tolliver defied orders to cut down on the overtime, according to state police supervisors familiar with the events.

He sees it differently. He said he never disobeyed a direct order but acknowledged he was called to headquarters because he continued to award overtime.

He said he told supervisors that he faced a problem different from those of other state police commanders, given the round-the-clock schedules of the people he was charged with protecting.

"It was ludicrous," he said. "I know I have a state police hat, but I'm in a different position. I've got a responsibility to protect them. . . . That's my job."

He now faces the toughest challenge of his career, playing to a broader political audience than merely his appreciative State House bosses.

In the past month, Mr. Tolliver scored points with the rank and file by rescinding an order that prohibited troopers from taking home their police cruisers, part of a cost-cutting move earlier this year. He overruled a captain who had set a quota on the number of traffic tickets written. He started riding with troopers and ordered sergeants out from behind their desks and out on the road.

So long as Mr. Tolliver is acting superintendent -- which the attorney general's office says cannot go on for the entirety of Mr. Schaefer's term -- he will not need confirmation by the Maryland Senate. At present, he continues to draw a captain's pay, $59,890 a year, but come Friday he will receive the superintendent's $79,656 annual salary.

The new state police stationery is emblazoned with his name and rank -- no mention of the acting status. His new color photograph hangs prominently on the wall of state police headquarters in Pikesville with a certain permanent air, right beside pictures of Mr. Schaefer and Bishop L. Robinson, the secretary of public safety and correctional services.

"Larry Tolliver is looking to a long term. Larry Tolliver is not looking at six to eight months in the job. Larry Tolliver is looking to be superintendent until he retires," he said.

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