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Leonardtown, MD- On Wednesday, September 30, 2020, Former Deputy State’s Attorney Jaymi Sterling announced her resignation following a complaint on questionable financial and personnel practices. Ms. Sterling alleges that she uncovered questionable financial and personnel practices at the County Office, and when she reported them to the appropriate authorities, she was demoted.
“For the last nine and a half years, I had the distinct honor to serve the citizens of St. Mary’s County as an Assistant State’s Attorney, Senior Assistant State’s Attorney, Chief of Staff and Deputy State’s Attorney. On Wednesday, September 30, 2020, I submitted my resignation from the office,” said Sterling in an email.
“In my most recent role as the Deputy State’s Attorney, I uncovered questionable financial and personnel practices. I took action to make sure these practices were reported to the appropriate authorities. In response, the State’s Attorney immediately demoted me for reporting these irregularities.” Ms. Sterling asserts to The Chronicle that she followed the directions of Human Resources completely on how to handle the complaints.
The Southern Maryland Chronicle reached out to State’s Attorney Richard Fritz on Thursday(10-1-20) in response to the allegations, and he stated, “My attorneys serve at my pleasure, quite simply she no longer serves at my pleasure as deputy state attorney. A series of bad decisions on her part caused me to take the action I did. What financial practices she is talking about I have no idea.”
In a Thursday, October 1, 2020 article on the Enterprise(SOMDNews.com), Fritz told reporter Dan Belson,” … the allegations of financial improprieties stem from a request for a $25,000 payment to pay staff for extra work for Project Graduation, a request he said was denied by the county commissioners.” Mr. Fritz denied knowing what the allegations were to the Southern Maryland Chronicle on Thursday.
The Southern Maryland Chronicle reached out to all of the County Commissioners with Commissioner’s Randy Guy, Mike Hewitt, and Todd Morgan declining to comment.
“Elected officials in St Mary’s County Government have been made aware of the allegations against the office of the States Attorney by Jaymi Sterling. Both Written and Verbal Complaints lodging allegations of misappropriation of taxpayer funding have been filed,” said Commissioner John O’Connor.
“I believe that the allegations brought forth deserve a full and impartial investigation by the appropriate authorities outside of St Mary’s County Government. Before any fingers are pointed and judgment is cast. The facts can be presented in a manner that provides clarity and transparency for the people of St Mary’s County,” said O’Connor.
The request was made in July that $25,000.00 per year be allocated to a staff member to work on Project Graduation. The reason being that Mr. Fritz believed with courts tentatively reopening in October the office would be under ” substantial strain” for some time and that the attorney needed to focus on those.
The staff member that was to be allocated this money was not named but was to receive quarterly payments of $6,250.00 with taxes being withheld in addition to their regular pay.Mr. Frtiz also noted in his letter that the attorney who was working on it volunteered and now wanted to bring on an employee and pay them to help. It was noted that this money would not come from the county general funds, nor would they impact retirement funds, or insurance becuase the person was already an employee of the county. The request was denied by the County Commissioners and Mr. Fritz appealed to County Attorney David A. Weiskopf.
In that letter, Mr. Fritz stated that due to the commissioner’s denial of the funds, they could instead make this employee a contract worker outside of working hours. He also stated that “The failure of the Commissioners to approve this request could have a substantial impact on our ability to continue in this program.”
One of the major issues here is that St. Mary’s Project Graduation 2020 was canceled on May 11, 2020. In the news release, Fritz said that graduates would receive “Project Grad Pack” in the mail. Then on June 10, the St. Mary’s County States Attorney’s Office released another press release stating,” With the remaining funds budgeted for the 2020 Project Graduation events, the State’s Attorney’s Office in conjunction with the Commissioners’ of St. Mary’s County, are redirecting the Project Graduation 2020 funds to the St. Mary’s County Public Schools for the purchase of 315 laptop computers for students.” The letters signed by States Attorney Fritz and Assistant States Attorney Kevin Hill(who works for the Child Support Division) were not sent to the Commissioners until late July 2020. The letter to County Attorney Weiskopf was not even sent until September 22, 2020. There was nothing to do for Project Graduation 2020, and given that schools are not back fully, there was no reason to believe that Project Graduation 2021 would be any different than 2020.
O’Connor states two Attorneys and one merit employee(all female) has resigned from the States Attorney’s Office in the past two weeks. We inquired about protecting these individuals that has come forward with the complaints and O’Connor replied, “St Mary’s County Government is aware of the assertion that Jaymi Sterling and other whistleblowers have not been afforded protection under the State of Maryland Whistleblower Laws and their claims of retaliation.”
The Southern Maryland Chronicle is continuing to follow these allegations and will bring the latest information when avaible.