Staubitz co-defendant charges frame-up

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Soon after Baltimore County police charged former state health official John M. Staubitz Jr. yesterday with five more burglaries, his alleged accomplice contended that the two are being framed in an elaborate conspiracy.

The account laid out by Robert Ernest Emmons Jr., in an interview at the Carroll County Detention Center, is the latest twist in the saga of Mr. Staubitz, who once sat in on state Cabinet meetings and now sits in a jail cell, charged with a dozen house-breakings in three counties. Mr. Staubitz, a former deputy health secretary, declined to be interviewed, but Mr. Emmons told a tale of mysterious limousine-riding, gun-toting men who were behind the burglary scheme. Though it sounds like a bad movie plot, the South Baltimore father of two insists that it is true.

"We didn't break into nobody's house," Mr. Emmons said. "They can't prove that I'm wrong, they can't prove that we did those burglaries. I'll take a lie-detector test, I'll take truth serum."

Mr. Staubitz and Mr. Emmons met in the fall of 1992 at the correction system's Reception, Diagnostic and Classification Center in Baltimore as they were awaiting their prison assignments. Mr. Emmons was serving time for theft, and Mr. Staubitz was serving a sentence for his role in skimming thousands of dollars from the Maryland State Games, an amateur athletics program for teen-agers.

Mr. Emmons said the two went into business together last spring after they were freed from prison. They sold personal protection devices -- including whistles and alarms -- Mr. Emmons said. On the side, he said, Mr. Staubitz was writing a book that threatened to expose corruption in state government.

Mr. Emmons said that he was approached outside a West Baltimore 7-Eleven by a man -- "a short, Greek guy" who gave no name -- who offered to pay him $30,000 to keep watch on Mr. Staubitz and find out what was in his book.

"He told me they were big people, people who didn't want to be brought down by this book that John is writing," Mr. Emmons said. "This guy wanted to bring Staubitz down, to discredit him, and he asked me to, you know, try and find out what was in the book."

Frightened, Mr. Emmons said he agreed to the arrangement. He pumped Mr. Staubitz, a 45-year-old Woodlawn resident, for information about the book and even saw portions of a manuscript, he said. At later meetings, the short man and at least two others -- sometimes riding in a limousine -- appeared to have guns bulging under their clothes, Mr. Emmons said.

Soon after the 7-Eleven exchange, the mystery man asked Mr. Emmons to get himself invited to a house in Hampstead that Mr. Staubitz was trying to sell for Coldwell Banker Grempler Realty Inc., Mr. Emmons said.

He succeeded in getting the invitation and also got a key, which Mr. Emmons said he gave to the mystery man. That key was later used by the mystery man and his conspirators to break into the house, Mr. Emmons said. Other burglaries followed, Mr. Emmons said.

"They would bring the stuff to me, and told me to sell some of it, to get some extra money. They told me to tell John about it, to tell him the stuff was from the estate of my uncle," Mr. Emmons said.

Mr. Staubitz never knew what was going on, Mr. Emmons said. As the conspirators brought more guns, silver, jewelry and other property to Mr. Emmons, he began to ask Mr. Staubitz to store it at his home.

Eventually Mr. Staubitz became suspicious and told Mr. Emmons to take the goods away, Mr. Emmons said. He then rented a storage locker in Baltimore, where police later found nearly $30,000 worth of stolen property.

The burglaries -- four in Carroll, five in Baltimore County and three in Howard -- took place over a two-week period last month. Authorities say half the house were listed for sale, and they contend that Mr. Staubitz -- through his job as a real estate agent -- checked them out to assess their worth as targets.

Mr. Emmons was arrested in South Baltimore Sept. 24, days after trying to use a Hecht Co. credit card stolen from a Carroll County house. Mr. Staubitz was arrested later.

His fall has left former colleagues baffled.

Health department co-workers say nothing in Mr. Staubitz's style hinted that trouble lay ahead. He was viewed as an affable, if cocky, administrator who was known more for charm than hard work.

"He was able to spin a good story when he was on the spot," one former colleague said. "He knew how to play the game. He could make you believe just about anything."

He was known as a fast-on-his-feet problem-solver who had the complete confidence of then health Secretary Adele A. Wilzack. "You might not like his style, but he got the job done," the acquaintance said.

Ms. Wilzack's loyalty to Mr. Staubitz eventually cost her her career in state government. She resigned over the games scandal.

Mr. Staubitz's colleagues were shocked when he was accused of stealing thousand of dollars from the State Games. He didn't wear fancy clothes. His only extravagance seemed to be playing golf and occasionally buying lunch for his colleagues, co-workers say. But one acquaintance recalled that Mr. Staubitz, "just a West Baltimore boy" who'd risen at a heady pace to the top of a state agency, occasionally seemed a little self-conscious about his credentials. He padded his 1991 resume, listing a master's degree in business administration from the University of Baltimore in 1979 and a stint as a fellow at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government in 1983.

Harvard officials find no evidence he ever attended there, and the University of Baltimore's registrar only reports a 1971 bachelor's degree in psychology for Mr. Staubitz.

Mr. Staubitz's first legal problems came with the 1990 state investigation of the State Games, a health department competition for young athletes touted as an antidote to the drug culture. The games' executive director, James E. Narron, pleaded guilty in May 1992 to conspiracy to commit misconduct in office and was sentenced to two years probation.

Meanwhile, Narron complained to prosecutors that Mr. Staubitz was making threatening calls to his house, showing up and demanding entry. The judge issued a court order directing Mr. Staubitz to stay away from Narron.

Later in May 1992, Mr. Staubitz unexpectedly pleaded guilty to the same charge of conspiracy. Though he still maintained his innocence, he said he'd decided not to stand trial because someone had fired shots at his car, which he saw as a death threat. The story soon became more bizarre. In July 1992, Mr. Staubitz did not appear in court for sentencing. Nearly a month later, he was found in Las Vegas in a hotel room he'd booked in his own name.

In October 1992, he was sentenced to 10 months in prison and fined $15,000.

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