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Ethics probe clears Taylor

August 10, 2002|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Maryland House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. made a mistake but did not break the law when he had a state trooper drive his secretary to a political event last month, the state prosecutor said Friday.

"We just didn't see any corruption here," prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli said in dismissing a complaint filed by the Maryland Republican Party.

Taylor reimbursed Maryland State Police $94 for chauffeuring his assistant Rhonda Robinson from Cumberland to nearby Flintstone where she represented him at a three-hour League of Women Voters candidates forum.

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Taylor, D-Allegany, chastised Republicans for launching the investigation after he admitted his mistake.

"That was dirty politics. It is ironic that the state Republican Party has wasted taxpayer money on a frivolous claim they knew had already been resolved," he said.

Paul Ellington, executive director of the Maryland GOP, said it is his duty to be a watchdog.

"(Taylor) paid back the money after the fact. He knew it was wrong from the beginning. This is a blatant abuse of power," Ellington said.

According to the prosecutor, Taylor arranged for the trooper to accompany Robinson to the candidates forum because she was worried about facing a hostile crowd.

Robinson had heard opponents of a proposed racetrack in Allegany County might create a disturbance at the forum. Taylor supports the track proposal. There was no disturbance at the meeting.

"He had other options, but took the most practical and probably most effective approach," Montanarelli said in a letter of explanation to Ellington. "It was the wrong one, but not a corrupt one."

Ellington called Taylor's excuse "flimsy" and noted that Taylor's story about the incident has changed.

Taylor, who is running for an eighth term, at first told The (Baltimore) Sun, which reported the controversy, that the trip was "perfectly appropriate."

Taylor changed his position after ethics committee counsel William G. Somerville and some unidentified Democratic leaders agreed with the GOP that the trip was inappropriate, the newspaper reported.

In a letter to state police Superintendent David B. Mitchell, Taylor called the trip an "inadvertent error."

"When a last-minute conflict arose in my schedule that prohibited me from attending the event, I sent my staff person in my place but neglected to alter the transportation arrangement," Taylor wrote.

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