A former city transportation official who ran the Charm City Circulator and water taxi programs has been federally indicted on charges that he took $90,000 in bribes — prompting city government to conduct a "thorough review of all internal monetary controls and procedures."
Prosecutors say Barry Stephen Robinson, the city's chief of transit and marine services, who resigned last week, took a $20,000 cash bribe in exchange for erasing a $60,000 debt owed to the city for advertising on Circulator buses, and a $70,000 bribe in exchange for selling off $250,000 worth of city bus stop shelters. He planned to use some of the money to fund his retirement, according to the indictment, which was announced Thursday.
U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said lax oversight in government allows wrongdoing to take place undetected. "This sort of corruption can occur when dishonest people are trusted to handle valuable government property without oversight," Rosenstein said in a statement.
City Council Vice President Edward Reisinger, who chairs the transportation committee, said the indictment highlights the need for greater oversight of employees in the agency. "I'm sick to my stomach. Somebody should have been checking him out."
Reached by phone, Robinson, 65, of Accokeek declined to comment on Wednesday's indictment, saying he had not yet seen it. But he stressed that he wasn't the villain portrayed by the charges.
"You can talk to anybody in the city, and no one will have a negative thing to say about me," he said. "I'm not like that."
Robinson's attorney could not be reached for comment.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called the indictment "unsettling" but said it "serves as an example of the consequences of defrauding the citizens of Baltimore."
She added that she has increased staff and funding for the inspector general's office to root out corruption. Since 2011, the number of funded positions in the office has risen from three to nine, and the agency's budget has more than doubled from $393,000 to $821,000. Baltimore Inspector General Robert H. Pearre Jr. has dedicated an agent solely to investigating the Department of Transportation.
Rawlings-Blake said Transportation Director William M. Johnson is working with the inspector general's office to conduct a "thorough review of all internal monetary controls and procedures to ensure that this situation will not occur again."
The indictment is the latest in a series of allegations of financial impropriety in the city's Transportation Department. A city transportation manager pleaded guilty to theft last year, after being accused of using forged documents to give $22,000 to his friends and family. In another case involving the department, the inspector general said an unnamed employee logged compensatory time, as approved by a supervisor, but submitted the hours as paid overtime. The city lost $13,726 through that ruse, authorities said, and the employee was fired but not criminally charged.
According to prosecutors, Robinson received a $40,000 check payable to the city's director of finance as a payment on $60,000 worth of advertising on buses in 2013. But Robinson returned the check, telling the vendor that he would take $20,000 in cash and drop the debt to the city, the indictment said.
Between January and March 2013, Robinson received four cash payments of $5,000 each, which he deposited into a bank account under another person's name, authorities said. Robinson then sent a signed letter on Baltimore City letterhead to the debtor, saying the $60,000 debt had been paid.
Authorities said Robinson also accepted a $70,000 bribe this April in exchange for the city bus shelters, which he had arranged for the city to purchase back in 2011. Authorities said he plotted to sell the shelters to fund his retirement.
The indictment did not name the vendors involved. Pearre said the case was investigated by the FBI and U.S. attorney's office. Marcia Murphy, a spokeswoman for Rosenstein, said she couldn't comment on whether any other entities were being investigated in connection with the case.
In addition to overseeing the Circulator and water taxi programs, Robinson was in charge of launching the city's bicycle-sharing program, which has been mired in delays.
Veronica McBeth, who is the bureau chief for transit, will replace him temporarily, city officials said.
According to city salary records online, Robinson was hired in May 2006 and made an annual salary of $83,000.
In the federal indictment, Robinson is charged with two counts of bribery and one count of money laundering. He faces a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison if convicted on all charges.
Jamie Kendrick, a deputy director at the Maryland Transit Administration who worked with Robinson on the Circulator, said he was crestfallen after hearing the allegations.
"On both a personal and professional level, I'm just crushed," he said. "If the allegations are true, it's a betrayal on so many levels."
Pearre said city officials are still trying to reclaim 13 bus shelters Robinson was holding in a storage facility.
"We're concerned with recapturing the city property, and going forward, reviewing internal controls within DOT and determining how he was able to thwart controls." Pearre said. "We've got to track how he was able to get these items off the books."
Adrienne Barnes, a spokeswoman for Johnson, said the indictment marked a "very sad day for the citizens of Baltimore."
Online court records show Robinson was involved in several civil cases in recent years, including disputes with an insurance company and a homeowner's association. In 2011 and 2012, the Prince George's County Circuit Court ordered him to pay about $77,000 to the Internal Revenue Service to resolve two federal tax liens.
Robinson also has several traffic-related offenses in Charles County. He was found guilty of driving while under the influence of alcohol in Charles County in 2011, receiving a 13-week sentence to be served on weekends.