Maryland state officials had little to say Friday about a criminal probe that has been launched into former governor Martin O’Malley’s purchase of furniture from the state at a steep discount when he left office last January.
A spokeswoman for the Anne Arundel County state’s attorney, Wes Adams (R), confirmed late Thursday that the office is investigating the purchases by O’Malley, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.
The O’Malley family bought dozens of pieces of furniture and other items from the governor’s mansion after state officials deemed it “excess property,” according to state records.
The family paid $9,638 for beds, chairs, desks, lamps and other items from the mansion’s living quarters that originally cost taxpayers $62,000. The Baltimore Sun first reported on the furniture purchase and on the state’s attorney’s investigation.
The probe, which O’Malley spokeswoman Haley Morris called politically motivated, could be embarrassing for the two-term governor at a time when he is stuck in single digits in the polls and heading into the all-important Iowa caucuses.
O’Malley has tried to position himself as the most electable alternative to Hillary Clinton, but he has been unable to build momentum in a campaign season dominated by a large, unpredictable GOP field and the unexpected surge on the Democratic side of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
“This is a bogus political attack that the Maryland Republicans have tried to make stick,” Morris said. “And it’s sad that they’re wasting taxpayer resources on it.”
The probe is being handled by Adams, who took office in the heavily Republican county last January. One of his first actions was to rid his office of Democratic prosecutors. He later hired Kendel Ehrlich, wife of former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), as an assistant state’s attorney.
Adams launched the investigation after receiving an email about the furniture purchase from state Secretary of General Services C. Gail Bassette, according to the Sun. Bassette is an appointee of O’Malley’s successor, Gov. Larry Hogan (R).
Heather Epkins, Adams’s spokeswoman, said he is following a legal process, without political motivations, and would “utilize the same process” were he to receive similar complaints about a Republican.
“We can’t pick and choose which complaint we are going to investigate,” Epkins said. “We are charged with doing due diligence to any claims that come to our office.” She said the investigation is in its infancy stage.
A spokesman for Hogan, who has publicly questioned O’Malley’s purchase of the furniture in recent months, declined to comment Friday, saying it would be inappropriate during an ongoing criminal investigation.
Other cases of alleged wrongdoing by state officials have been investigated by State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt, an O’Malley appointee. Davitt’s staff said he was not available for comment Friday.
James Cabezas, a chief investigator in Davitt’s office, said Adams is “within his legal authority” to conduct an investigation.
He said it is not unusual for a county state’s attorney to conduct a preliminary inquiry and then hand the case to the state. It would also not be unusual for Adams to keep the case, he said.
O’Malley said in September that he was “kind of surprised” by the controversy over his furniture purchase, saying his family “followed the rules as they were laid out to us.” He said the family paid what the Department of General Services determined was the furniture’s depreciated value.
“I know there was no negotiating of the price,” O’Malley said in September. “We were just told it was some sort of standard depreciation formula they had used for the prior family.”
O’Malley aides say Ehrlich purchased furniture under the same procedures when he moved out of the governor’s mansion in 2007. Ehrlich purchased a lesser amount of furniture.
Hogan, who moved into the mansion a year ago, was asked about the controversy during a news conference in September. He said he asked O’Malley during a tour of the mansion about the “beautiful” furniture and asked whether the items belong to him or to the state. “He’s been misleading,” Hogan said.