Maryland State Police will take charge of security at the Port of Baltimore today and begin investigating allegations that crime runs rampant of ineffective law enforcement by port police.
On Monday, Acting Gov. Blair Lee III named Lt. Frank E. Mazzone, the second-highest official in the state police intelligence division, to serve as acting chief of the 78-member port force and head an investigation into the allegations.
Lee's action came amid news reports in the Baltimore Evening Sun that the $8-billion-a-year port is the site of unchecked cargo thefts, loan sharking, fencing, narcotics distribution, extortion, gambling and indifference by port officials.
"There's a lot of smoke, and I want to see how much fire there is, how much is real shennanigans and how much is the product of feuding between factions," lee said in calling for a probe of "this pile of charges and rumors."
State Police Supt. Thomas S. Smith said Mazzone's squad will "investigate every newspaper allegation" as well as conduct an independent investigation of the port so as "to set the record straight one way or another."
Many of the allegations in the news reports were based on statements by former and active members of the port's police force, a 78-man contingent, which reports to the Maryland Port Administration and is independent of state and city police.
Several port police officers were quoted as saying they were powerless to enforce the law because their civilian superiors do not want them to interfere with the workings of port labor unions and the shipping industry.
They complained that they are severely underequipped - officers at one terminal reportedly patrol the area in garbage trucks - and not properly organized to combat port crime. The force includes only two detectives, according to reports.
It was reported that the wife of a former port police chief has said ini a letter to Lee that maritime industry officials paid off state authorities to fire her husband because he was investigating corruption along the waterfront.
At the time of his dismissal, according to the letter, former Chief Phillip Weinfeld was investigating shakedowns of truck drivers, bribes of port officials, misappropration of state property and unsafe practices and conditions.
According to other allegations, at least one port maintenance worker, using state materials, rewired and repaneled the home of a port official, and vehicles bought for port police were used instead by civilian port authorities.
Port administrator Joseph L. Stanton said yesterday he knows of "absolutely no evidence of malfeasance" by port officials. The newspaper allegations, he said, were grossly exaggerated and "not well founded."
Stanton said that there is crime at the port, but no more serious than (crime) at any of the nation's waterfronts. The fact that the state spends $1.5 million a year for port police, he added, shows serious intent to stamp out crime.
The waterfront stretches from the southeast corner of Baltimore to The Southern most points of Baltimore County. The port accounts for more than 10 per cent of the state's gross product and employs about 10 per cent of its labor force.