ANNAPOLIS, JAN. 29 -- Del. Howard P. Rawlings said he just could not understand how Maryland Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary Adele Wilzack failed to spot problems in the Maryland State Games.

"This is a textbook case of nepotism and mismanagement, a total breakdown of the public trust," the Baltimore Democrat began, leading up to a question that seemed to be on the minds today of several members of a House subcommittee during a hearing on the now-defunct sports program.

He told Wilzack he had read that she was a friend of the deputy secretary who oversaw the State Games, that the deputy secretary occasionally accompanied Wilzack to state events and that she had frequented a restaurant partly owned by the deputy secretary.

"There was all of this abuse and none of your employees would come up to you," Rawlings said, suggesting that maybe "there was a major reluctance on their part because of your relationship with the deputy secretary."

"Is that an appropriate relationship?"

Wilzack said only that she respected and trusted John M. Staubitz Jr. before allegations surfaced that led her to dismiss him and the director of the State Games program.

"This man had been in the department for 17 years," Wilzack said.

Wilzack's answer ended almost 3 1/2 hours of questioning of Wilzack by members of the House Appropriations subcommittee on health and the environment.

Wilzack continued to stand by her assertion that she didn't know what was going on with the day-to-day affairs of the program despite being an ardent supporter.

She told subcommittee members today that she approved spending anti-drug money on the State Games. Health department auditors later found that much of that money, more than $350,000, was spent inappropriately by a nonprofit foundation affiliated with the department.

The auditors' report and a subsequent report by a General Assembly auditor prompted a criminal investigation by the state Attorney General's Office.

The allegations led Wilzack to obtain a court order putting the foundation's financial affairs in the hands of an independent receiver. She then disbanded the State Games program, dismissed several contractural employees and reassigned other workers.

However, Wilzack's actions have failed to quiet calls for her ouster.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's) said today legislators might use leverage to force her out.

"There are dozens of proposals, none of them pleasant," Miller said. "The governor is asking the House and Senate to vote for tax increases this year . . . . How can members vote for revenue enhancements . . . when a Cabinet secretary is being retained who has squandered $500,000 or $1 million in tax funds?"

For his part, Gov. William Donald Schaefer (D) continued to stand by his beleaguered secretary today. Schaefer said he was disappointed to hear Miller's comments from reporters.

"That's not the way to do business," Schaefer said at a news conference. "If they come over, I'll listen to them."

Schaefer prefaced his remarks by saying, "My confidence has not eroded in her.

"Any one of us . . . could have been in the same position, where you have faith in your people . . . . And anyone that thinks that you can watch everyone, every whim, every moment -- it's impossible." Staff writers Richard Tapscott and Howard Schneider contributed to this report.