Five members of a former Prince George's County grand jury issued a statement yesterday criticizing the county government and some court officials for disregarding the jury's investigation of county land deals.
The unusual public statement, signed by the five jurors who served on a special investigative subcommittee, was especially critical of the office of Prince George's State's Attorney Alex Williams. The statement said Williams made it clear that his office "could spare no time to assist or advise us . . . . We were on our own."
The grand jury, which convened last October, formed the special five-member subcommittee to look into the county's purchase of several parcels of land from former secretary of state Fred L. Wineland, the father of council member Kirwan F. Wineland, and the operations of a dumping ground used by a politically connected construction firm, the John Driggs Corp.
Several jury members said yesterday that Williams's office showed little interest in their probe and withheld mail that had been addressed to grand jurors detailing specific charges.
The jurors also said Williams was reluctant to ask the presiding judge for an extension of their term so they could conclude their work.
Williams said yesterday he was "deeply saddened" by the grand jury's criticisms. He said the complaints were not brought to his attention when the grand jury was sitting.
Williams said he knew nothing about mail to grand jurors being intercepted by his office. And, as to his reluctance to extend the grand jury's term, Williams said he had asked jurors for specifics about the investigation so he could justify asking for more time.
In their public statement, the jurors also criticized the county government for failing to institute recommended changes in the county's handling of land transactions.
The full 23-member grand jury issued a report in March urging changes so that county business would not give what the jury called an "appearance of impropriety."
The jurors' statement praised Maryland Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli for helping the jury wade through complicated land transactions.
In addition to reviewing transactions involving the Wineland land, the jury subcommittee discovered in county files a transaction in which the county swapped a $1.1 million parcel of commercial land for a $300,000 strip of property in a highway median. Jurors say they were distressed that the county agreed to undervalue its property in the agreement signed with developer Robert W. Douglas Jr. The arrangement allowed him to save an undetermined amount of federal tax and at least $19,480 in county and state property transfer taxes.
On the advice of Montanarelli and the grand jury's presiding judge, Vincent Femia, the grand jury did not subpoena witnesses to testify about the transactions and issued no indictments at the end of its probe.
Femia recently acknowledged that he placed telephone calls to Wineland and an attorney for Driggs, both longtime personal friends, to tell them about the grand jury probe and ask for their cooperation. Jurors said they were upset by Femia's phone calls, which they said were made without their knowledge or approval.
In March, the grand jury issued a carefully worded report criticizing the county government for engaging in transactions without public hearings or competitive bidding. The report named no names and gave no specifics of the land transactions. After disbanding, jury members said, they were concerned about the lack of prosecutorial interest in the case. Montanarelli quickly said he found no grounds for further investigation, a statement that prompted one jury member, Charles "Bud" Snyder of Brandywine, to write to Gov. William Donald Schaefer to complain.