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Accountabilityby David A. Plymyer8:34 amApr 4, 20240

Beichler case holds a harsh mirror up to Olszewski administration

A police investigation launched on a flimsy pretext against a whistleblower is sending vibes of the Spiro Agnew era in Baltimore County [OP-ED]

Above: Inspector General Kelly Madigan and County Executive Johnny Olszewski last December speaking in favor of a bill that placed the inspector general’s office in the county charter. (Brew file photo)

Last October, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski and Inspector General Kelly Madigan used the 50th anniversary of the resignation of Spiro Agnew as vice president of the United States as an opportunity to reflect on how much Baltimore County government has changed since Agnew, who accepted bribes from contractors during his time as the county executive and resigned in disgrace in 1973.

Olszewski touted transparency as a “key pillar” of his administration. Madigan said the county has made “great strides” in policing itself against corruption since the creation of her office in 2020.

Both claims are placed in doubt by information that has come to light in the aftermath of the Eagle Transfer Station scandal in 2022, including the letter sent last week to members of the County Council from Michael Beichler, as detailed in The Brew.

Beichler is the former chief of the Bureau of Solid Waste Management for the Department of Public Works and Transportation (DPWT).

There is a line that, to my knowledge, not even Agnew crossed: County officials committed to openness, transparency and accountability do not use their police departments to conduct unjustified criminal investigations of suspected whistleblowers.

And in my opinion that is exactly what the Olszewski administration did with Beichler.

Initiating a Witch Hunt

On June 14, 2022, the Baltimore Sun reported that Madigan had opened an investigation into a complaint that a fundraiser held for Olszewski by Jack Haden, the prospective owner of the Eagle Transfer Station, influenced Olszewski’s decision to seek approval of the facility.

As stated in his recent letter, that person turned out to be Beichler.

Patrick Murray, at the time Olszewski’s chief of staff, met with former county Police Chief Melissa Hyatt the next day and told her that Beichler, who retired several months earlier, was observed entering a DPWT facility after ordinary business hours on two days.

He asked Hyatt to open a police investigation into “his unauthorized entrance into a county facility and his departure from that facility with County property.” Video from a security camera appeared to show Beichler carrying documents.

According to the police report, the information came from D’Andrea Walker, Beichler’s former boss at DPWT.

Beichler had retired from DPWT in February 2022 because of his dispute with Walker over Haden’s trash transfer station. Although his key card to the building had been deactivated, he was not barred from entering the building and, according to employees, was a frequent visitor.

I see no justification for involving the county police, especially when no property was reported missing.

If either Walker or Murray had bothered to ask him, Beichler would have told them that he was given permission by a senior DPWT employee to enter the facility on the two dates in question to make copies of records, and that he had telephone records to show calls on both dates to a cell phone number listed for that employee on an internal DPWT directory.

Ask yourself this question:

Did Walker or Murray really believe that Beichler had committed a crime? I see no justification for involving the police, especially considering that no property was reported missing.

Needless to say, Beichler was cleared of any wrongdoing by the police, but not before numerous county employees were interviewed by a detective, including the employees who let Beichler into the building on the days in question. Interestingly, the detective never interviewed Beichler.

After the detective described the evidence, the existence of the IG complaint and the possibility that Beichler was the complainant to a senior assistant state’s attorney, the attorney advised the detective to close the case without interviewing Beichler.

Perhaps the prosecutor was understandably reluctant to implicate himself (or the detective) in the harassment of a whistleblower.

Redacted Report of Investigation Baltimore County Police Department by Fern Marie on Scribd

Trepidation by Police

There are indications that one or more individuals within the county police department also were concerned about the ramifications of investigating a whistleblower. I requested a copy of the “incident report” under the Public Information Act.

The response from the department clarified that no incident report had been filed, but that there was an “investigative file” responsive to my request.

The file that I was provided was originally labeled a “confidential criminal intelligence report.” That label was crossed out in the copy sent to me, which I found unusual.

An incident report generally is completed by the police officer to whom a crime is reported.

If Murray was not reporting a crime to Hyatt, then what was he doing?

Why record the investigation of an alleged trespassing and theft in a confidential criminal intelligence report?

Was it the investigation of a crime. Or wasn’t it?

Those are questions that Inspector General Madigan should have answered.

Fly in the Ointment

I believe that anger overcame the good judgment of Olszewski’s appointees when they decided to initiate the criminal investigation of Beichler.

The Eagle Transfer Station proposal was doomed as soon as the objections raised by Beichler were made public in stories published by The Brew and Sun.

And the proposal’s demise put a target on his back.

His actions saved county taxpayers millions of dollars, but sent him into early retirement after 28 years of service to the county.

Beichler’s actions saved county taxpayers millions of dollars, but sent him into early retirement.

The criminal investigation requested by Olszewski’s top aide found no wrongdoing by Beichler.

But it ran his name through the mud and delivered a message to county employees that they could expect the police to come calling if they blew the whistle on the Olszewski administration.

Maybe that was all the investigation was intended to accomplish.

In addition to his original complaint about the transfer station, Beichler filed a complaint with the IG office about the police investigation.

No IG report has been issued yet on either complaint. I have a hard time understanding that.

Suffice it to say that the story of the Beichler investigation does not paint a picture of an administration committed to the principles of transparency and accountability.

Rather, it portrays public servants obsessed with hiding information they do not want the public to know.

David A. Plymyer retired as Anne Arundel County Attorney after 31 years in the county law office. He can be reached at dplymyer@comcast.net and Twitter @dplymyer.

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