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Gov. Hogan appoints Emmet C. Davitt as anti-corruption prosecutor to Maryland Racing Commission

Emmet C. Davitt successfully prosecuted several elected officials, government employees and campaign workers since becoming state prosecutor office in 2010. He retired last year.
Emmet C. Davitt successfully prosecuted several elected officials, government employees and campaign workers since becoming state prosecutor office in 2010. He retired last year. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

Gov. Larry Hogan has appointed a former high-ranking anti-corruption prosecutor to the Maryland Racing Commission, filling a vacant seat on a body that has been under scrutiny in recent months.

Hogan has nominated former State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt, who retired last year after years of prosecuting corrupt politicians. Davitt has a confirmation hearing before the Maryland Senate’s Executive Nominations Committee on Monday night.

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“Emmet Davitt was widely respected throughout his tenure as State Prosecutor for his commitment to transparency and accountability," Mike Ricci, Hogan’s spokesman, said in a statement. "We are fortunate that he has agreed to continue to serve the state.”

When he retired last year, Davitt said he let Hogan’s office know he would be available to serve on boards and commissions as needed. Davitt said he’s no horse racing expert, but looks forwarding to joining the board and provide oversight.

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“I’m pleased and excited to serve on the commission and I’m grateful to the governor for the appointment,” he said.

The Maryland Racing Commission, which regulates the industry, has come under scrutiny amid investigative reporting by The Baltimore Sun.

The Sun reported last year that most members of the Maryland Racing Commission are financially invested in the sport they govern, including several who have won cash awards from a state program managed by the panel.

Critics have also complained the panel is too cozy with The Stronach Group, which owns Pimlico Race Course, Laurel Park and Rosecroft Raceway, a harness racing track.

The Sun reported that the commission approved $22.5 million in state subsidies for racetrack renovations since 2013 without ever adopting a required capital improvement plan from Stronach. The track owner ended up spending nearly 90 percent of the subsidies on Laurel while Baltimore’s Pimlico continued to deteriorate.

Davitt’s record suggests he would bring a watchful eye to ensuring state laws are followed.

Davitt has successfully prosecuted several elected officials, government employees and campaign workers since taking office in 2010. His notable cases include former Baltimore County schools superintendent Dallas Dance, who pleaded guilty to failing to disclose income for part-time consulting work, including payments from a company he helped to win a no-bid contract with the school system. Dance was sentenced to six months in jail.

Davitt also prosecuted John Leopold, the former Anne Arundel County executive, who was found guilty of two counts of misconduct in office in 2013. Leopold was accused of forcing his office staff and police detail to carry out personal and campaign tasks. He served 30 days in jail.

His appointment comes as Maryland lawmakers are moving forward with legislation that would authorize up to $375 million in debt to rebuild the Pimlico and Laurel tracks and keep the storied Preakness Stakes horse race in Baltimore.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Guy Guzzone, chairman of the Senate’s Budget and Taxation Committee, would provide at least $180 million for work at or near Pimlico in Baltimore and $155 million at Laurel in Anne Arundel County.

The legislation has been in the works for months, ever since the city of Baltimore and Stronach reached a deal last fall to end a fractious dispute that had the company threatening to move the Preakness to Laurel and the city suing to seize Pimlico and take control of the famous race.

Under the deal, Stronach pledged to donate the track’s land in Northwest Baltimore to the city for development. Pimlico’s antiquated grandstand and clubhouse would be demolished and a new clubhouse would be built in its place. The track would be rotated 30 degrees to create nine parcels of land that could be sold for private development.

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The parties envision the bond money going not only for the Pimlico track and community redevelopment, but also for Laurel . It would receive a new clubhouse and training facilities, along with new stables and new housing for backstretch workers. The thoroughbred industry’s Maryland training and stable operations would be consolidated there.

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