Ethics commission to seek fines in court


The State Ethics Commission is going to court to try to collect $8,750 in fines and penalties from Howard County elections board administrator Robert J. Antonetti Sr.

The money is due from a 1997 commission ruling, which found that Antonetti had improperly hired his wife and children for part-time elections board jobs in Prince George's County and failed to disclose their employment records. He was administrator of the Prince George's County's elections board for 30 years before taking a job in Howard County in 2000.

Suzanne S. Fox, executive director of the commission, said $1,250 in late fees - penalties for not filing the employment disclosure reports - is being referred to the attorney general's office for collection.

The commission also decided this week to seek payment of the unpaid $7,500 fine through Prince George's County Circuit Court, she said.

"It was just a pro forma matter" for the commission, she said, after a Court of Appeals ruling in September upheld the commission's case against Antonetti.

Another sanction, a two-week job suspension, is moot, Fox said, because "he doesn't work for [Prince George's County] anymore."

Antonetti said, "I'm going to talk to my attorney" about the fine. He described it as a "very unusual situation" and said he has the option to pay or not to pay.

The commission found that the veteran official paid his family members $14,000 from 1988 to 1994 for part-time work, and signed the pay authorizations for them.

Antonetti argued through various appeals that although he hired family members for temporary jobs, that is not inappropriate or even unusual in Maryland. He signed the pay stubs because he was the only board official authorized to do that.

But Assistant Attorney General Randolph S. Sergent argued before the appeals court in April that ethics laws require officials to "fully disclose the nature and circumstances of conflicts of interest. There is no evidence of this disclosure."

Antonetti's appeal of the commission's decision to Prince George's County Circuit Court won a reversal of the commission's ruling in February 1999. The state appealed that to the Court of Special Appeals, which again upheld Antonetti.

The commission then took the case to the state's highest court and won.

Howard officials have said they hired Antonetti because of his long experience, which they felt outweighed his problems in Prince George's.

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