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Lack of evidence to seek charges

August 16, 1997

By MARLO BARNHART

Staff Writer

Two former school board managers will face no criminal charges as a result of a lengthy police investigation of suspected misuse of public funds, Washington County's top prosecutor said Friday.

"We didn't believe we had sufficient evidence to warrant criminal charges," said Washington County State's Attorney M. Kenneth Long Jr.

The investigation was conducted by Long, two Hagerstown City Police detectives and the Maryland Attorney General's office.

"The state must be able to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and to a moral certainty," Long said. "In law, that is the heaviest burden of proof one has to sustain."

Long said he authorized the police investigation because "serious questions were raised" by a 1995 audit prepared by the national accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand.

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Former Washington County Board of Education director of finance W. Wayne Stouffer and former director of facilities management Ralph E. Giffin were dismissed in June 1995 following the audit, which turned up allegations the two men misused public funds and violated board purchasing policies and regulations.

Specifically, the audit accused Stouffer of buying a computer for personal use through the board purchasing system without paying tax or freight charges, of obtaining personal items through a clearing house for tax-exempt organizations and of mismanaging a board scholarship fund.

The audit also listed a central office maintenance department social fund financed by salvaging board property that was used to pay for about $21,000 in flowers, gifts and maintenance department parties during its roughly 10-year existence.

The two men appealed their terminations a month later and early in August 1995, they reached a settlement with the board.

Giffin declined to comment when reached by telephone on Friday.

During a 1995 interview, Giffin said former Superintendent Wayne F. Gersen was fully aware of the maintenance department fund throughout his tenure.

In a memorandum written during the Coopers & Lybrand audit investigation, Gersen said he recalled condoning the use the salvage funds for parties, according to Long's report.

Acknowledging there were allegations of improprieties from some of the 60-plus people interviewed during the investigation, Long said the police believed those people mainly hoped the investigation would lead to policy changes rather than charges.

"It would have been stronger (for criminal charges) if there had been paperwork" that would have substantiated some of the claims, Long said.

But in many cases, the paperwork that was available was undated or outdated and unreliable, Long said.

"In any criminal prosecution, it is necessary to prove the alleged crimes occurred within the applicable statute of limitations," Long said.

In lieu of charges, Long has recommended that the school board request a legislative audit through the Maryland General Assembly to review all policies and procedures and make suggestions.

School board members got together Thursday to discuss Long's Aug. 13 report on the investigation, board President B. Marie Byers said Friday.

Byers said she blames the direct and indirect elimination of "checks and balances" in the system under Gersen for allowing the alleged mismanagement to occur.

She said the report echoed audit recommendations for increased accountability - like the establishment and maintenance of a fixed asset inventory - that the board has since acted on.

It also included a recommendation that the board set up a system to allow employees to make confidential complaints about mismanagement.

According to the investigation report, several employees alleged supervisors asked them to perform work outside the scope of their jobs.

Byers said the board's ethics panel will be asked to handle that task.

"We're into a new day," she said. "All of us are very, very committed to improvement of the school system."

Board member Edwin Hayes was on vacation and couldn't attend the meeting, Byers said.

Stouffer could not be reached by phone on Friday.

In a 1995 interview, Stouffer said he discussed buying the computer with Gersen before he bought it.

He said the superintendent not only approved the purchase, but that Gersen authorized him to put together a program through which any board employee could do the same.

Stouffer said that his purchase of a computer for personal use not only wasn't a violation of board policy, but that the board doesn't have a policy prohibiting such purchases.

Gersen said in 1995 that personal use of the board's purchasing system was more of a legal issue than a policy issue but said it wasn't a criminal matter.

Stouffer said he also discussed the purchase with Byers, then school board vice president, who gave her approval.

Byers responded that she remembered a conversation with Stouffer about putting an employee computer purchase program together, but that Stouffer never indicated he intended to purchase one for his own use.

Staff Writer Kerry Lynn Fraley contributed to this report.

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