Cory Sanders moved to College Park two years ago and became a rising political star.
The 34-year-old organized a neighborhood association at his apartment complex after a man was gunned down in the parking garage; founded a Democratic Club; and was appointed to two City Council commissions.
He made the rounds of local Democratic politicians and activists and launched a run for City Council that won the backing of mayoral candidate Patrick Wojahn.
But it turns out that Sanders has also made false and disputed statements about his education and employment history in campaign appearances and materials.
Sanders’s résumé and the biography on his campaign Web site claimed degrees from institutions whose spokesmen said he had not been awarded them. He was charged with unemployment fraud while living in Florida and is being sued by a former employer, who has accused him of using company secrets to win contracts for his personal business, SandTech.
In his campaign biography, Sanders says he has a bachelor’s degree from Florida A&M University. A university spokesman said Wednesday that Sanders attended the school between 1999 and 2004 but there is no record of him having graduated.
Asked about the discrepancy, Sanders said the university must have made a clerical error. On Thursday, he showed a reporter a graduation program with his name on it, and on Friday, he sent The Washington Post a photo of his diploma.
Sanders labeled other questions about his record a “political hit job” and accused opponents of trying to smear his reputation just days before Tuesday’s election.
“It’s sad,” Sanders said. “I find the timing of this suspicious. . . . There are people who don’t like change.”
Sanders is running against Christine Nagle and incumbent Fazlul Kabir for the District 1 council seat, one of several local races on the ballot for voters in the Prince George’s County municipalities of College Park, Bowie, Greenbelt and Laurel; and the Montgomery County municipalities of Rockville, Gaithersburg and Takoma Park.
The elections in College Park, home to Maryland’s flagship state university, have drawn unusually intense interest and fundraising this year, a reflection of a development boom and efforts by local leaders to boost the city’s image.
“We have opportunities before us that we’ve never seen before,” Wojahn said. “We are on the cusp of significant redevelopment, and there is excitement and concern of what that might lead to if not steered in the right direction.”
On Sanders’s campaign Web site and résumé, he says he spent years “advising the current mayor of Tallahassee” on budgetary matters and was communications director for the mayor, Andrew Gillum, when Gillum was a city commissioner.
Tallahassee officials said Sanders was an unpaid intern in then-Commissioner Gillum’s office. Sanders’s name does not appear on any human resources records, and staffers in Gillum’s mayoral office could not recall him spending time on the campaign. Gillum (D) declined to comment.
Sanders conceded in an interview that he was an unpaid intern but said he did substantive work for the politician.
Sanders’s Web site said he obtained a master’s of business administration from the online college Excelsior. But Sanders said in an interview that he has not completed the master’s degree. He amended the information on his Web site Thursday.
His campaign biography said he is in the process of earning a “master’s certificate” in cybersecurity from Georgetown University. Officials there say the program offers only a professional certificate and is available to anyone who enrolls in the School of Continuing Studies.
Sanders says on his Web site that he is a director at ProTelecom, a Prince George’s County business specializing in audiovisual network systems. But he left the company in March after executives there accused him of procuring federal contracts for SandTech, his own business, in some cases in direct competition with his employer’s firm.
ProTelecom has sued Sanders for fraud, breach of contract and interfering with its business by being “willfully and maliciously” dishonest. According to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Prince George’s County Circuit Court, the firm is claiming up to $500,000 in lost business.
Federal records show SandTech bidding on thousands of dollars worth of contracts during the time that Sanders was working for ProTelecom and, later, for IP Consulting, a Michigan-based communications contracting business.
Sanders said he was fired from IP Consulting in September. He said his boss at ProTelecom knew he was bidding for SandTech and encouraged him to do so. The lawsuit, Sanders said, was an act of retaliation by that boss, who he said was angry about his resignation.
In 2010, Sanders was charged in Florida with making fraudulent claims for unemployment benefits, a felony. He eventually pleaded no contest to a lesser charge of making false statements. He was put on two years’ probation and ordered to pay restitution.
Sanders said the criminal charge resulted from a misunderstanding. He called the mistakes in his biography and résumé and on his Web site “oversights” in need of correcting.
Wojahn, the mayoral candidate, said the discrepancies are concerning but will not change his support for Sanders’s council campaign. “I hope if there is any dishonesty on his résumé that he will take steps to clear that up,” Wojahn said. “He would be a fine addition to our council.”
In other municipal races, longtime Bowie Mayor G. Frederick Robinson faces competition from City Council member Dennis Brady and 21-year-old newcomer Keith Alphonso Jackson. Races for the four open council seats are competitive for the first time in a decade, city officials said.
In Laurel, Mayor Craig A. Moe is running unopposed, and in Greenbelt, the mayor and six council members are vying for reelection.
The Gaithersburg mayoral race is to fill the unexpired term of Sidney Katz, who was elected to the Montgomery County Council last year.
Hamil R. Harris and Bill Turque contributed to this report.