Top officials fired last week by the department that runs Maryland's prison system said their former unit's ability to investigate corruption is being thwarted amid innuendo and bureaucratic infighting.
Steve Geppi and Debra Gonzalez Morin ran the investigation and intelligence operations at the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. They told The Baltimore Sun they were suspended just one week after they played key roles in putting together a case in which 80 people — including 18 correctional officers — were charged with corruption at a prison on the Eastern Shore.
Geppi and Gonzalez Morin said they received no explanation when they were fired about two weeks later by Secretary Stephen T. Moyer. They contend they were brought down by baseless allegations of an inappropriate sexual relationship.
"For me, that shows a lack of backbone at the very top," said Geppi, a 24-year veteran of the Maryland State Police who said he was hired by Moyer with the charge of eliminating corruption in the scandal-plagued prison system. "When the going got rough, he caved in at the knees."
Gonzalez Morin, a 16-year veteran of the department who had run the intelligence unit since 2013, said seven other members of her team have since been put on administrative leave.
"If you think anyone would want to be in Intel now, after seeing this, it's not going to happen," she said.
State personnel law forbids department officials to explain disciplinary actions against state employees. The secretary declined to be interviewed but released a statement.
"Management must be held to the same high standards as any other member of this department. In fact, they should be held to a higher standard because of their level of responsibility," Moyer said. "Our former employees absolutely know the allegations against them and understood that they served at the will of the secretary."
He denied the firings and suspension would hurt anti-corruption efforts.
"Our intelligence and internal investigation units remain strong," he said.
Doug Mayer, a spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan, said the governor stands behind Moyer.
"The secretary has the green light from the governor to handle allegations of misconduct in the manner he feels is most appropriate, especially allegations of sexual misconduct," Mayer said.
Moyer, a former Maryland State Police lieutenant colonel, was brought in when Hogan took office in January 2015 with a mandate to clean up corruption.
The investigation at the Eastern Correctional Institution found evidence of a conspiracy to smuggle contraband including heroin, cocaine, cell phones and pornography into the Somerset County prison. Prosecutors charged that 18 corrections officers, 35 inmates and 27 others took part in the scheme. The indictment accuses officers of taking bribes and in some cases having sex with inmates.
Geppi, 64, said he and Gonzales Morin, 51, were staunch allies in the effort to root out corruption. They insist they are nothing more than friends and colleagues.
The two said they were surprised Oct. 11 when they were put on administrative leave amid reports of unspecified misconduct. Geppi said his team was praised and applauded at a meeting with Moyer that morning for their role in the ECI investigation.
"In the morning I got an ovation. In the afternoon I got suspended," he said.
Both said that while suspended, they were interrogated by David Kitzinger, commander of the Maryland State Police internal affairs unit. Geppi and Gonzalez Morin said questions focused on the night of Oct. 4 at a hotel outside Salisbury, where federal and state law enforcement officers slated to take part in arrests the next day gathered to prepare.
Geppi and Gonzalez Morin said the investigator asked them about an alleged sex party. They said he asked about drinking that night and about room assignments. Gonzalez Morin said she was asked how many times she used an access door to a room adjoining her own — one she said she hadn't noticed.
Both said they committed no sexual misconduct and knew of none involving team members.
Greg Shipley, spokesman for the Maryland State Police, said an investigation is continuing and that he could not comment on any findings.
Geppi said tensions had been growing between himself and the public safety department's internal affairs division. He said he believed it was not shouldering a sufficient caseload. He said Gonzales Morin's stepped-up vetting of officers in line for promotions had generated more cases that required investigation, leading to resentment.
Some professional associates of Geppi and Gonzalez Morin said they are highly capable and ethical.
Moyer said Monday that David A. Reitz, a Baltimore Police Department colonel who has managed the department's Investigative and Intelligence Bureau, has been hired to replace Geppi as chief investigator.