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Speaking in the vernacular, the District’s inspector general, Charles C. Maddox, is suffering a big head.
It’s not enough that Congress granted D.C.’s Office of the Inspector General independence in 1995, or that it was vested with extraordinary powers during the height of the control-board era. Nor does it appear sufficient that between 1996 and 2001, the agency’s budget increased from $3.4 million to $11.2 million and staffing rose from seven employees to 90. (Fifteen other staffers are attached to a federally funded fraud unit, which brings this year’s personnel total to 105, according to District finance officials.) Nor is Maddox satisfied with the fact that Medicaid-fraud investigations were moved earlier this year from the city’s corporation counsel to his domain or that his office gained the authority to prosecute such cases in D.C. Superior Court.
Maddox wants more. “Gluttony” is the operative word on the fifth floor at 717 14th St. NW.
Maddox wants City Auditor Deborah Nichols to be required to notify his office of her activities, according to a legislative proposal he submitted to the D.C. Council that’s currently under review by the Committee on Government Operations. He also wants to rewrite the city’s ethics laws, although the laws aren’t the problemenforcement is. He wants full control over his personnel, snatching that prerogative from the mayor; all employees would serve at his pleasurewhich is a dangerous politicization of the office, to say nothing of being unfair to the workers. He wants to be able to conduct audits of the D.C. Housing Authority, although that department gets most of its budget from the fedsnot the District. He wants more than the $125,700 annual salary he receives.
Most alarming is that Maddox also wants his investigators to be able to carry guns everywhere, including Maryland and Virginia, and to make arrests whenever they please. Can’t you just hear those agents now? “Up against the wall, hands in the air! Show me your files, your spreadsheets, and your bank books!”
Maddox and his gang of federal retireesmany of his agents have law enforcement backgrounds should get a grip.
“They are creating a fourth branch of government that doesn’t exist anywhere in the countrynot anywhere in the world,” says one top-level government source, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“I have some concerns about the broadening of resources the [inspector general] has gotten over the last several years and whether the work is commensurate,” says Ward 3 Councilmember Kathy Patterson, who is also the former chair of the Committee on Government Operations.
Patterson says the inspector general’s office has produced some good reports on contracting and procurement but adds that other reports “have been pretty shoddy.” She cites the report that investigated contributions made by senior-level Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) commanders and inspectors for a gift and birthday party for Chief Charles Ramsey. (The chief later reimbursed his officers for the money they had donated.) Patterson says that instead of relying on the department’s own rules against such solicitations, Maddox used ethics laws intended to be enforced by the Office of Campaign Financewhich meant that the officers involved in the solicitation walked away without even a slap on the wrist. Patterson also says she has been disappointed in the delay of the report investigating allegations of improper fundraising within the mayor’s office.
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The powers Maddox seeks for his office look pretty unusual when compared with those in other jurisdictions. None of the inspector-general employees in the state of Louisianahistorically one of the more corrupt governments in the countrycarry firearms; neither do agents in the state of Massachusetts or the city of Chicago. The inspectors general in Louisiana and Massachusetts do not have prosecutorial authority similar to that of the District’s inspector general. The entire budget for the Massachusetts office is only $2.5 million, with a staff of 45, according to a spokesperson. Chicago’s inspector general says he has a budget of $2.7 million and a staff of 56, which includes 10 police officers who are specifically assigned to his shop to make arrests. Last year, the Chicago inspector general initiated between 400 and 600 criminal investigations.
By comparison, Maddox’s operation, with a staff of 105 investigators, lawyers, and auditors, had 243 open cases, not including those it referred to District agenciesthe targets of complaintsfor action.
Maddox says his office should not be compared with those in other cities and states. He says Congress intended D.C.’s inspector general’s office to mirror the federal operation. He says what he and his agents are requesting is not “out of the ballpark.” He adds that he was asked by congressional and local elected officials to spell out what his office might need in a post-control-board era to remain effective in ferreting out waste, fraud, and abuse in the government. Besides, he says, he is not “looking for a lot of power. We are looking to clarify ambiguous parts of the [enabling] language.”
Poppycock. Contrary to Maddox’s contention, his proposal is yet another in a series of efforts to expand his office’s reach that began under his predecessor, E. Barrett Prettyman Jr., to whom no one could say no, especially because his daddy’s name is etched into the federal court building. What’s more, the nitpicky stuff about the city auditorwho has a staff of only sevenis nothing more than subterfuge, designed to distract from the more critical aspect of his proposalfull law enforcement authority (FLEA)which means that Maddox and his former federales would be able to carry firearms all the time, anywhere. They could make arrests anywhere, and, Maddox says, they would get respect from the other law enforcement agenciessuch as the FBI and the MPDthat now must act on his office’s behalf, especially outside the District. The idea of having another law enforcement official at his side, doing his bidding in certain circumstances, seems, in Maddox’s opinion, an affront to the agency’s professional pride.
“Every rent-a-cop throughout this city carries a gun, and they don’t have the same standards of training as we do,” says Maddox.
Maddox says that Maryland law officials have informed his office that without the FLEA designation, his investigators can’t carry firearms in that state unless they have permits. He doesn’t want to spend the money for permits, and even with them, he says, there would still be limitations on what his agents could do. He says that without the full legal authority, his agents can’t access financial data files, which often are important in investigations. And he says that on several occasions his work has been slowed by the failure of the MPD or the FBI to act in a timely manner. In a July 24, 2001, letter to Ward 5 Councilmember Vincent Orange, chair of the Committee on Government Operations, Maddox noted that in one Medicaid fraud case, the defendant had agreed to a guilty plea and was ready to surrender, but that “officer availability has delayed the filing for over a month.” In another incident Maddox cited, his office has had ready for prosecution since last September a case in which a nursing-home resident was assaulted, but “resource limitations have restricted MPD’s ability to execute a misdemeanor arrest warrant.”
MPD Executive Assistant Chief Terrance Gainer is incredulous when LL relays this information to him. “I can’t believe that with 3,600 officers, we couldn’t find one to execute a misdemeanor warrant. I have to believe there’s a communication problem.”
In Chicago, the inspector general gets around the need to carry weapons by having handpicked police officers work directly in his office. For Maddox, similar options are practically unlimited: There are more law enforcement agencies in the District than in any other city in the country. But such an arrangement wouldn’t satisfy Maddox.
“It’s one of the things I’ve been concerned about over time,” says Patterson. “The people they tend to recruit are ex-FBI agents or Secret Service agents, who are used to packing firearms. I think they are trying to re-create a federal law enforcement agency within the District.”
They also are trying to satisfy a principal interest: media attention.
“I can’t tell you how many times when you read [in the newspaper] the FBI had done something, it’s our case,” says Maddox, adding that even when his chief of staff, Gloria Johnson, has attempted to clarify his office’s role for reporters, the stories invariably credit another law enforcement agency.
If Maddox fears he’s in jeopardy of becoming a Rodney Dangerfield clone, instead of snatching a gun and arrest powers and storming into Maryland or Virginia, he should steal a page from Ramsey’s book: Get a television or radio program. Maybe there’s a time slot available on WTOP. Jonetta Rose Barras
Editor’s Note: Jonetta Rose Barras is leaving the Washington City Paper to pursue other interests. This will be her last Loose Lips column.