A grand jury has indicted a woman who works at a D.C.-based temporary employment agency for allegedly paying homeless people to work the polls in Prince George's County for Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., and the Maryland state prosecutor said yesterday that he is broadening his investigation to include other Election Day offenses allegedly committed in the county by Republicans.
Shirley R. Brookins is alleged to have paid "walking around money" to workers who approached voters outside Prince George's polls and handed out campaign literature advocating the election of Ehrlich, now the governor elect, and running mate Michael S. Steele.
It is against state law to distribute or accept money to work at polls or advocate on behalf of a candidate on Election Day. Reached at her office yesterday, Brookins said her attorneys have instructed her not to comment.
Steele's campaign committee paid Brookins's company, Alternative Resource Cooperative Inc., more than $52,000 on Nov. 2, according to campaign records disclosed this month.
Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver said the company was paid only to distribute literature on the weekend before the Nov. 5 election, which is legal. She said she had no idea whether anyone from the campaign instructed Brookins to hire workers for Election Day.
"If any impropriety is discovered, it is clearly the actions of a few overzealous individuals," DeLeaver said.
Steele, who spent yesterday evening at a party in Prince George's celebrating his election as the state's first African American lieutenant governor, said he had no knowledge of wrongdoing on Election Day.
"We did everything aboveboard, absolutely," Steele said. "It is the only way to do it. Fortunately, I was out campaigning [on Election Day], and I don't know what happened."
The decision to hire Alternative Resource Cooperative was made by a group called Democrats for Ehrlich through the leadership of the Prince George's County campaign headquarters, according to DeLeaver. She said the campaign's Prince George's coordinator, Wayne M. Clarke, was cooperating with State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli but was not involved in the hiring decision.
Clarke said he did nothing improper. "I know they are going after me, but I am not worried. I am prayed up," he said.
A lawyer representing Democrats for Ehrlich declined to comment.
State Democratic Party spokesman David Paulson disputed DeLeaver's assertion that overzealous individuals may have been involved, saying, "This is not an overzealous campaign worker; this is someone who was paid to do exactly what she did and now finds herself indicted for it."
Montanarelli said that his investigation was continuing and that prosecutors are presenting the grand jury with more evidence about other cases of electioneering.
"The scope of my investigation has broadened, but I'm not at liberty to say how much," he said. "There is additional evidence to be presented to the grand jury."
Montanarelli said that his investigation is confined to allegations of illegal campaigning in Prince George's County and that he has not received any complaints of wrongdoing committed on behalf of Democratic candidates.
He said a prosecutor from his office observed Brookins paying people outside a homeless shelter in Washington the day after the election. Reporters also witnessed the event, which was captured on videotape.
Montanarelli said Brookins allegedly paid 100 to 170 people. He would not say how much they allegedly were paid, but some people said they had been offered as much as $100 each to work on Election Day. A homeless man who allegedly was hired to work the polls in Chillum said that a luxury bus rolled up to the Community for Creative Non-Violence shelter and that he and other workers were given instructions. "They said if we had any problems, just say I am working for Shirley," the man said in an interview with The Washington Post on election night.
Some students at Bowie State University said they were promised money to work Election Day as well but were not paid. Montanarelli declined to say whether those complaints were part of his investigation.
The grand jury returned the indictment Thursday, but Montanarelli said he waited to disclose it because prosecutors could not locate Brookins to serve her with legal papers until yesterday. If convicted, she could receive up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Montanarelli, who was appointed by a Democratic governor, bristled at comments made by Republican leaders suggesting that his probe was politically motivated.
"They are ill-informed," he said. "If they want to sit down with me and find out how I got started on this, I'd be happy to tell them. And then I'd expect an apology."
Staff writer Hamil R. Harris contributed to this report.