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Maryland’s government created a website to deter gambling. It ended up promoting casinos.

Maryland’s government created a website to deter gambling. It ended up promoting casinos.
The administration paid $6.5 million to the University of Maryland School of Medicine for a program to deter gambling addiction. But due to poor oversight, the domain for the website (mdproblemgambling.com) for the deterrence program lapsed and the site was taken over with promotional material for casinos and Las Vegas. (Karl Merton Ferron)

State legislative auditors accused Maryland’s Behavioral Health Administration of lax oversight of hundreds of millions of dollars in grants — including a mismanaged anti-gambling website — in a recent audit of the agency.

The state audit dated July 9 noted the agency’s inspector general referred two other matters to the attorney general for possible criminal investigations.

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The administration, which is responsible for providing mental health and addiction-related services, repeatedly failed to oversee whether state grants were being administered properly, found the audit, which covered the period from the agency’s founding in 2014 through November 2017.

A part of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s health department, the Behavioral Health Administration “could not assure that certain services were provided, including mental health and substance abuse disorder services,” State Auditor Greg Hook wrote in a letter to lawmakers that announced the findings of the audit.

In its response to the audit, the BHA said it would “ensure that personnel can conduct effective oversight by introducing and training relevant staff, supervisors, and managers on policies and procedures.”

Among the problems auditors identified in the report: The administration paid $6.5 million to the University of Maryland School of Medicine for a program to deter gambling addiction. But due to poor oversight, the domain for the deterrence program’s website (mdproblemgambling.com) lapsed and the site was taken over with promotional material for casinos and Las Vegas.

Hook called that “an egregious example of lack of oversight.”

After auditors brought the matter to the administration’s attention, the website was restored to its proper form, the audit said.

While auditors were probing the agency, investigators with the Maryland Health Department’s Office of Inspector General reported “questionable activity” with agency money that they referred to state Attorney General Brian Frosh for investigation.

One matter concerned the Opioid Operational Command Center, for which the Behavioral Health Administration received more than $16 million last year. Investigators said they found “certain concerns” and “questionable activity” with the use of grant funds.

The audit did not specify the nature of the investigation.

Hooks said he planned an upcoming audit of the Opioid Operational Command Center specifically.

“As a result of these concerns and the nature of certain activity, we will be conducting an audit of the [Opioid Operational Command Center] and issuing a separate report on the results of our review,” auditors wrote.

Auditors said they also received allegations of “questionable activity” between the Behavioral Health Administration and other government entities that circumvented a competitive-bidding process.

The Inspector General found that the Behavioral Health Administration directed government entities to hire as many as 13 individuals as consultants who were former administration employees or had other relationships with the agency. The consultants were paid $2.6 million in fiscal year 2018.

A spokeswoman for Frosh said she could neither confirm nor deny the existence of any investigation.

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