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Environmentby Mark Reutter6:40 pmNov 8, 20140

Head of city board went to spa and hairdresser, took trips on city time, investigators find

Sandra E. Baker, head of the Environmental Control Board, was rarely in the office as she racked up a $97,000 salary last year and plenty of comp time

Above: Inspector General Robert Pearre with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake earlier this year at City Hall.

The director of Baltimore’s Environmental Control Board rarely came to the office before noon, spent hours at the hairdresser and a spa, yet routinely billed the city for more than nine hours of work a day, according to a report by the city’s chief fraud investigator.

Inspector General Robert H. Pearre Jr. issued a report concerning the “fraudulent timekeeping scheme” of Sandra E. Baker at a peculiar time – after the close of business yesterday (Friday) evening.

This is the first public disclosure of its contents.

According to the report, the scheme resulted in 81 hours of work not performed by Baker between March and July 2014, which “accounts for only a fraction of the true amount of time that Ms. Baker has been paid for work not performed.”

Baker, 54, a lawyer and mayoral appointee, was fired from her $97,000-a-year post last August after Pearre’s preliminary investigation was conveyed to the mayor’s office.

Yesterday’s report comes just a day after a city grand jury indicted a Transportation Department employee for fraudulently billing the city for 2,227 hours of overtime.

A week earlier, a federal grand jury indicted the former boss of the Charm City Circulator for taking bribes and trying to sell city bus shelters.

According to the report, the Baltimore City State’s Attorney Office received evidence of Baker’s billing scheme, but “declined prosecution.” The Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission has not taken disciplinary action against Baker, according to its on-line records.

A phone call to her East Baltimore residence today seeking comment was not returned.

Never Audited

The Environmental Control Board is one of scores of quasi-independent commissions and boards that remain obscure to the public – and to many in city government itself.

The ECB handles citations issued to homeowners and businesses for violations of sanitation, zoning, public health and food laws, and administers what is popularly called the “trash court.”

The board is one of many city agencies excluded from audits mandated under a 2012 charter amendment whose slow pace has frustrated audit advocates.

Following an anonymous tip that Baker was “stealing city time,” investigators used e-mail and physical surveillance to identify specific instances where the lawyer was not at work in her Lexington Street office.

On March 19, 2014, for example, they found that Baker billed the city for 9.2 hours when she told her executive assistant by email that she was taking the day off to go to physical therapy, followed by a trip to the hairdresser. On April 15, she billed the city for 9.2 hours when she was booked on an afternoon plane flight to Indianapolis.

In another instance, surveillance cameras caught her entering a Northeast Baltimore spa at 11:33 a.m. and not leaving the establishment until 4:45 p.m. She charged the city for 10.2 hours of work that day.

She billed the city for time spent in Philadelphia, according to the report, as well as for trips to the cleaners and a pedicure appointment.

Lax Timekeeping

Enabling Baker in her alleged scheme was the city’s lax timekeeping procedures. “Like many city agencies,” Pearre noted, “ECB’s time and attendance record keeping is a combination of both paper and electronic documentation,” with paper time sheets submitted by employees to the executive secretary, who enters the data onto eTime, the city’s electronic payroll system.

Full report of “Frauduent Timkeeping Scheme” HERE

Baker was responsible for reviewing and approving all data entered by the executive secretary – including her own. This “allowed Ms. Baker to enter and approve her own timekeeping information in the eTIME system,” the report said.

Confronted by evidence of false billings, Baker told investigators that she was “on call” at all times and not subject to the city’s typical 8:30-4:30 working hours. She estimated that she worked between 30 and 35 hours at the office and spent many more hours working at home.

To review her claim that she was working at home, investigators examined her city email account and found that Baker sent out, on average, 3-5 emails a day.

“The content and extremely low amount of email correspondence sent from Ms. Bakerʼs account is atypical for someone in a high-level management position. This led the Office of Inspector General to seriously question the amount of work Ms. Baker was performing from home,” the report said.

The report also noted that Baker’s supervisor, Deputy Mayor Khalil Zaied, was generally unaware of her whereabouts and routinely approved requests for leave time that Ms. Baker used as “opportunities to charge work hours and accrue compensatory hours.”

Perk of her Position

Office staff told investigators that Baker was physically present in the office for as little as 15 to 20 hours a week – and that she explained her absences by saying that “as a mayoral appointee and a member of the Mayor’s Cabinet, she can come to the office as she pleases as a perk of the position.”

At the time Baker was fired in August, she had accrued $55,378 worth of compensatory time and sick leave. The city has refused to pay out those funds and is also withholding $4,252 from Baker’s final vacation and personal leave payout, according to the report.

On-line city records show that Baker was paid $90,497 in 2012 and $92,353 in 2013 – and got a big pay increase ($97,258) in fiscal 2014 ending on June 30.

The board’s current interim director is Mary Beth Haller. She supervises eight full-time staff and three lawyers that act as part-time administrative law judges at the “trash court.”

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