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Baltimore County's rampant public corruption in the 1970s steered police officer into career of exposing graft

Recent public corruption convictions of eight Baltimore police officers on federal racketeering charges and the guilty plea for fraud of former city Del. Nathaniel Oaks may make Marylanders forget that it was public graft in the suburbs that led to the creation of the Maryland State Prosecutor’s office 42 years ago.

“Eyes of Justice,” the memoir of the office’s longtime investigator, James Cabezas, provides a concise summary of the embarrassing scandals in Maryland that transpired as President Richard Nixon was nearing his resignation in 1974. This is The Sun’s third peek into Cabezas’ book, written with journalist Joan Jacobson, and its rich insider’s history of catching politicians abusing their powers.

“Back in 1973 I was fascinated by the federal investigation of Vice President Spiro T. Agnew for taking kickbacks from engineers who got no bid contracts when he served as Baltimore County executive. He kept taking payoffs after he became governor and vice president,” writes Cabezas, who retired two years ago.

Agnew resigned that year after pleading no contest to a single felony tax evasion charge.

“For the next four years, other high-profile political corruption cases were in the news constantly,” he writes. All of them were prosecuted in federal court, before Maryland had an office to focus solely on corruption.

  • In 1974, four months after Agnew’s resignation as vice president, another Baltimore County public official went down. This time it was Baltimore County State’s Attorney Samuel A. Green Jr., who was convicted of “conspiring to take money from a man who wanted his arrest record expunged.” The lurid facts led to a sensational trial as women in Green’s office testified about sexual exploits “in the very courthouse where he reined as top prosecutor.” (Gov. William Donald Schaefer pardoned Green 20 years later.)
  • Later that same year, “Baltimore County Executive Dale Anderson, Agnew’s successor, was convicted of conspiracy for extorting almost $40,000 from contractors doing work for the county.”
  • Also in 1974, former Anne Arundel County executive Joe Alton pleaded guilty in federal court “for extorting kickbacks from consultants.”
  • In 1976, Del. George Santoni was “convicted in federal court of attempting to extort almost $15,000 from a contractor in exchange for his help getting custodial and demolition contracts from Baltimore City. The contractor turned out to be a phony company set up by the FBI.”
  • In 1977, “Maryland’s most powerful politician, Governor Marvin Mandel, was convicted in federal court of pushing legislation to benefit his friends, who gave him hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and gifts.”

The following year Cabezas was assigned as a city police officer to work with the new state prosecutor’s office as an investigator. It’s a job he would take on full time and remain at until 2017.

“After so many high-profile convictions of politicians, there was a clamor from the Maryland General Assembly and the public to create a state office exclusively dedicated to flushing out political fraud, bribery and influence peddling, as well as maintaining integrity in government and the election process,” he writes.

Legislation to create the office was signed into law by acting Gov. Blair Lee III, “who was filling in while Governor Mandel was in federal prison.”

Previous Sun previews of “Eyes of Justice” focused on bribes paid to police officers and the Mafia.

ddonovan@baltsun.com

twitter.com/dougdonovan

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