With a few days remaining before the Democratic primary, Baltimore State's Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein fought back after facing questions from his challenger about his handling of an investigation into police overtime fraud.
Challenger Marilyn J. Mosby said at a news conference Thursday that news reports have raised the issue of whether Bernstein had a relationship with a target of the investigation that could have made it inappropriate for the state's attorney's office to take the case.
"Gregg Bernstein does not understand the difference between partnering with the police for the best interest of those who have called him to serve versus leveraging his personal relationships with members of the Police Department," Mosby said.
The state's attorney's office's investigation into overtime payments made to Maj. Ian Dombroski and Capt. Robert Quick ended in fall 2012 when the officers were cleared of any criminal wrongdoing.
Bernstein campaign spokeswoman Jamie Watt Arnold said in a statement that Mosby's comments were a sideshow intended to distract voters from the real issues in the election — crime and violent offenders.
"This is nothing more than a desperate attempt by an unqualified state's attorney candidate who has never prosecuted a murder or rape case to distract away from the critical issues facing voters," she said.
The officers and the Police Department did not respond to requests for comment.
The case centered on requests for overtime payouts filed by the officers after they had been promoted to the now-defunct rank of deputy major. That rank was not eligible for overtime, but the men were still being compensated as lieutenants and continued to file for extra pay.
On a number of occasions, the payment requests for one of the officers were filed twice in the department's payroll system, but prosecutors did not find that the officer — who was not identified — knowingly received the double payouts.
Bernstein's office had been asked about potential conflicts of interest at the time of the investigation because Bernstein had previously represented Quick in a civil lawsuit when he was in private practice, but a spokesman said then that a "comprehensive review" found there was no problem.
On Thursday, Mark Cheshire, Bernstein's spokesman, said the office stood by its approach to the case and the investigation's outcome.
Mosby launched her attack following a report Wednesday night on WBAL-TV, which cited emails between Quick and Bernstein's wife, Sheryl Goldstein, at the time of the probe. The emails showed communication between the two but did not discuss the investigation, according to the WBAL report.
Goldstein, who was the mayor's top crime aide until the summer of 2012, did not respond to a phone message.
Councilman Brandon M. Scott, who was first to initiate an investigation into the overtime issues through the city's inspector general, said he has long had concerns about Bernstein's closeness to the case.
Scott has endorsed Mosby in the election but said his decision was not connected to the overtime case.
"It's just a shame," he said. "I hate to say 'I told you so.' "