A Montgomery County grand jury issued a report yesterday containing no indictments but criticizing conditions surrounding the county police department's investigation of the Progress Club, a private organization of mostly elderly men where illegal gambling flourished until Rockville city police raided the club last year.
The report marked the conclusion of a 14-month high-profile investigation of alleged improprieties among high-ranking Montgomery County police officials.
Police Chief Bernard D. Crooke, who figured in the grand jury investigation, said although the report essentially clears him and his department of wrongdoing, it does not "take away the anger I have."
"I knew I was not a criminal," he said. "I knew I was not going to be indicted. But what has transpired . . . has made me an angry man and I will remain an angry man."
The 2 1/2-page report addressed two issues brought to the grand jury's attention by Montgomery's other chief law enforcement official, State's Attorney Andrew L. Sonner:
*Contributions totaling $5,500 for police-affiliated charities solicited at Crooke's direction from the Progress Club. The grand jury did not mention the solicitation specifically, but criticized the fact that county regulations do not prohibit county employes from soliciting charitable contributions from those they regulate or investigate.
*The county police's abrupt cessation in March 1981 of a years-long undercover investigation of gambling activities at the club. The jury took to task a decision by Crooke to "disband, rather than reform" the county police intelligence unit that began the original Progress Club investigation.
The grand jury also criticized unnamed officials for intimidating witnesses by transferring them to unwanted jobs and taking "other infavorable actions" against county employes who testified before it, an allusion to the transfer of a police sergeant from the department's personnel office to street patrol after he testified before the grand jury early in the investigation.
Rockville city police, using intelligence information gathered by county police between 1979 and 1981, raided the club on June 5, 1984, and Sonner's office then brought illegal-gambling charges against the corporation that runs it.
Sonner's assistant, Matthew Campbell, began presenting evidence to a grand jury after learning that many of 21 members of the club arrested during the raid told city police they believed themselves shielded from arrest and prosecution for gambling.
The grand jury probe pitted Crooke and Sonner against each other, with Crooke accusing Sonner of waging a vendetta against him. County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist, who testified before the grand jury in September, was drawn into the clash.
In a statement issued by his office yesterday, Gilchrist said he is "pleased but certainly not surprised that the grand jury found no basis to indict any county employes."
The county executive said he sees "problems" with restricting county employes' efforts to solicit funds for charities, because that would hinder private industries' contributions to worthy causes. He also dismissed as unsubstantiated the jurors' "suggestion that some witnesses may have been intimidated by acts of supervisors."
Gilchrist called Crooke, whom he appointed chief in May 1979, "a superb chief."
The grand jurors, referring in the report to the personality clash between Sonner and Crooke, defended the legitimacy of their probe and dismissed allegations of "misuse of this grand jury for the pursuit of a political or personal vendetta."
"This was not the impetus for our investigation," the report said. "We addressed our concerns regarding possible illegal activities without regard to political situations."
Sonner said yesterday he is anxious to put the investigation behind him and get on with law enforcement in the county.
"Crooke and I will never have a warm relationship, but will the prosecutor's office and the police department be able to work together without this damaging us? Of course," Sonner said.
"It was a tough fight, but it was a draw," he said. "We have done everything we legally could to get to the bottom of why the Progress Club [members] believed that they were immune from prosecution. The grand jury has found improprieties, as the report revealed, but they found no indictable offenses."
Crooke was not as optimistic about the future. "The relationship between his [Sonner's] office and the [police] department has been good, but not between the two of us. He cut it off," the chief said.
Maryland law bars grand juries from using names in reports containing criticism but no indictments.