Montgomery County Executive Charles Gilchrist said yesterday his former aide, Gerard Evans, told him two months ago he had taken a personal loan of $2,000 from a former liquor firm executive. At the time the loan was made, Evans was recommending the man's relative for a job in the county's Department of Liquor Control.
Evans submitted his resignation in March after being questioned about the loan by grand jury investigators, who decided the loan was not improper. But in public statements announcing the resignation, neither Gilchrist nor Evans disclosed the loan's existence, referring instead to Evans' frustration with "personal attacks" against him and his desire to complete his formal education.
Gilchrist's statement came only after Charles Buscher, a former vice chairman of the distilling firm Schenley Industries, told county personnel board investigators Tuesday night that he had loaned Evans $2,000 in January 1980 to help make a down payment on a house.
At the time, Frank Orifici, another former Schenley official, who is married to Buscher's niece, was under consideration for the post of liquor department deputy director. Evans has confirmed he was actively lobbying members of the interviewing committee to hire Orifici, who ultimately got the job and remains in it today.
The personnel board, to which Buscher made his disclosure is investigating alleged tampering with the county's merit system in liquor department hiring.
Buscher's testimony was the latest development in nearly a year of controversy over alleged corruption in the county's $75-million a year liquor department, which holds a monopoly on liquor sales in the county. It comes at a time the Gilchrist administration has sought to convince the public it is making full disclosure.
State's Attorney Andrew Sonner said investigators working with a grand jury probing allegations of bribery in the liquor department concluded that the loan "was not a bribe." The grand jury recently completed a seven-month investigation and brought no indictments.
Yesterday Evans confirmed most of Buscher's account of the loan, and, saying he had repaid it, called it a purely a business transaction. He said he recalled telling Gilchrist of the loan shortly after he took the money sixteen months ago.
Gilchrist, however, said yesterday he has no clear memory of hearing of the loan before Evans told him in March. In a statement, he said, "I believe his [Evans'] assurances that he did nothing improer in exchange for the loan. However, even the appearance of possible improperiety was unacceptable."
He said he did not make the loan public in March because the grand jury already knew of it and Evans had promised to inform the personnel board. Disclosing the loan while these two confidential investigations were in progress would be inappropriate, Gilchrist said, and would be unfair to Evans.
Word of the loan "would appropriately come out pursuant to those investigations," Gilchrist said, pointing out that this is what did happen. Asked if any other undisclosed circumstances figured in Evans' resignation, Gilchrist replied, "there's nothing else."
His attorney at his side, Buscher gave testimony for 2 1/2 hours on Tuesday night in open session after refusing to meet the board behind closed doors, as other witnesses have done. Much of the questioning concerned Orifici, who submitted his application in the summer of 1979, was interviewed in January and began work in April 1980.
Buscher denied he had ever discussed the hiring with county officials before a decision was made, and in fact felt Orifici would be better off staying at his job with Schenley. He did confirm, however, that in December 1979, when Orifici's application was pending, he had arranged a surprise birthday party for Evans at a rockville restaurant. Among seven or eight guests at the party were Orifici and department head Robert Passmore.
In 1978, Buscher pleaded guilty to seven counts of a 23-count indictment charging him with illegally inducing officials in West Virginia to buy liquor from the company.
Buscher told the personnel board Tuesday night that he helped raise funds for Gilchrist's champaign committee during the 1978 race and had become fond of Gilchrist's close aide, Evans. "I'd love to have him as a son," Buscher said.
In January 1980, Buscher and the Evans family inspected a house Evans was considering buying for $50,000, Buscher said. Evans asked for a $2,000 loan to help with the down payment. Buscher agreed, writing a check and drafting an IOU that put interest at 6 percent.
Evans repaid $500 in October and $1,500 in December, both times in cash. Buscher said, though some interest remains outstanding. When Evans dropped off the last payment, Buscher returned the IOU to him and has not seen it since, he testified. Buscher offered to provide bank records showing he had made deposits into his accounts of amounts roughly equal to Evans' repayments.
Evans said he put the $2,000 down on a house but in the end did not buy it because of a dispute on terms.
According to Sonner, the state's attorney, grand jury investigators met with Evans for an hour and a half on Feb. 27 and questioned him about the loan. There was no proof the money was repaid other than the statements of Evans and Buscher, Sonner said. An unnamed third party also confirmed that the transaction was a personal loan, according to Sonner, and investigators accepted this explanation.
The following Monday, Evans went to Gilchrist to tell him of the loan and offer his resignation, according to Gilchrist. The executive accepted. "The questions about the loan were the last straw," Gilchrist said in explaining Evans' reason for resigning.
In his resignation letter to Gilchrist dated March 3, Evans said he resented "the steady stream of pernicious innuendo surrounding sincere relationships between myself and conscientious members of the community," an apparent reference to Buscher.