NEWS AND COMMENTARY
By Kenneth C. Rossignol
ST. MARY’S TODAY
COMPTON (October 1998) — St. Mary’s States Attorney Walter B. Dorsey accused Richard Fritz, his former deputy who is running as a Republican to succeed him, of maliciously and falsely attacking his political enemies while serving as deputy states attorney as well as failing to account for thousands of dollars in drug funds administered by Fritz in 1992. Dorsey also called Fritz’s attempt to convince citizens that he would be a tough anti-drug prosecutor a “masquerade.” He promised to “unmask” Fritz as the election nears, starting with last week’s rally for Assistant States Attorney Joe Mattingly, the Democratic nominee.
At the political fund-raiser for Joe Mattingly Jr., Dorsey was joined by Sen. Roy Dyson and Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller in turning out a large crowd of over 300 people at Breton Bay Inn on Thursday night as Hurricane Bonnie meandered towards the Maryland coast with forecasts of bad weather for this area.
With Walter being the designated name of this year’s last hurricane, it was clear that the longtime and immensely popular state’s attorney grabbed the attention of the crowd after being introduced, and as if he were Hurricane Walter, Dorsey spoke forcefully to the group which became hushed and silent, listening carefully to his every word.
Dorsey stormed across the front of the room with the glare of spotlights following him as he waved a sheath of papers over his head for emphasis, displaying some of his legendary courtroom personas to the crowd of Democrats.
“I want to tell you some things that I could not tell you before when I was a candidate,” said Dorsey, “But I can tell you now, but first I want to say that I am very proud of my office and we have a good staff of professionals, of which Joe Mattingly is a part. Joe Mattingly has been a part of it for 16 years. He has helped develop our key child support enforcement programs, bad check collections for local merchants, and project graduation.”
Dorsey said that in addition, Mattingly had been the most successful prosecutor in the region, debunking the campaign rhetoric of the overconfident supporters of Richard Fritz.
“Joe Mattingly had the highest conviction rates of any prosecutor in Southern Maryland for the years he was chief of our District Court Office,” said Dorsey. “I think it is important that we have career prosecutors; we have over 4,000 cases a year to handle.”
“I am not a candidate, and therefore there are some things I can now bring to the public’s attention,” said Dorsey. “The Office of States Attorney of St. Mary’s County is very important and should not be used as a way to attack political enemies or anyone and hold them up to public ridicule. One cannot talk about what took place in a Grand Jury room if an indictment is not forthcoming in order to protect the Grand Jury process. The same is true if an investigation does not yield an indictment or criminal charges.”
Dorsey continued to command the total attention of the crowd. He thundered over the room in a loud booming voice, completely overshadowing the fact that he had lost most of one lung to successful cancer surgery two years ago. The microphone that Dorsey used seemed almost frivolous as the five-term prosecutor made his points, repeatedly punctuating the air with the device while bounding from one place to another.
“Fritz is not my opponent now, and I am going to say some things tonight that I could not before,” warned Dorsey. “You may remember some articles in the paper a few years ago; they surfaced because Richard Fritz misrepresented to the local press that he had evidence that Sheriff Wayne Pettit and Commissioner Eddie Bailey were gambling with drug dealers and prostitutes in an illegal gambling hall.”
“Fritz later told me he knew nothing about it when the articles were published,” said Dorsey. “I met with the officials of the Maryland State Police, and they reported to me that they had no evidence of Bailey and Pettit playing cards or being in the Cinderblock Building.”
“The only evidence that Fritz had was a drug dealer named Gary Lee Stanley, whom he gave $4,000 in drug fund money to probably play cards with,” said Dorsey. “Fritz misrepresented to the press that these public officials were gambling in there; he used this office to embarrass Pettit and Bailey for political purposes because he supported their opponents.”
Dorsey said that Fritz knew that the state police reported to him that they had not been able to collaborate the information from the drug dealer after they sent an undercover investigator in to gamble at the Cinderblock Building. When Fritz then turned around and gave out information about the gambling investigation, which the state police say did not produce any incriminating evidence against the two officials, Dorsey equated that act with revealing Grand Jury testimony.
Following the publication of several articles about the alleged presence of the sheriff and the county commissioner in the Cinderblock Building, the two filed a $1.5 million libel suit against the newspaper. Before the publication of the articles, Pettit and Bailey failed to comment on the allegations when asked for comment, an act that contributed to their plight.
After a year and a half of legal proceedings, the newspaper proved its reliance upon Fritz, as a public official, as the source of information on Pettit and Bailey being in the building. Fritz gave an affidavit certifying he supplied information about the sheriff and commissioner frequenting the gambling hall to the newspaper. Upon discovering that fact, the two plaintiffs were forced to drop their suit as the newspaper had every right to report to its readers the information it relied upon from Fritz, as deputy states attorney, to be accurate and true and, therefore, did not act maliciously.
While the newspaper had done nothing wrong, never apologized, paid any money, or issued a retraction in return for Pettit and Bailey to drop the suit, the two officials nonetheless had to spend thousands of dollars in their attempt to clear their names. They both lost the next election while the newspaper initially struggled without legal representation to defend itself, before obtaining pro-bono attorneys in Washington.
Fritz Lied To Newspaper, Public
Dorsey said after the speech last Thursday that he felt Fritz’s misuse of prosecutorial powers was outrageous in that he deliberately misled the newspaper about the truth concerning Bailey and Pettit; that not only did the former prosecutor lie and hurt them, but he also lied to everyone in St. Mary’s County.
“We have just seen this vividly demonstrated that when the president admitted the entire community as well when that information is published and relied upon by the publisher and the readers to be true,” said Dorsey.
“A public official, which is what Fritz was when he was a member of my office,” said Dorsey, “has to tell the public the truth, and in this matter, he did not. He thrived on manipulating, lying, and misleading. Therefore, by having the newspaper, Pettit, and Bailey all fighting each other, he was able to stand aside with amusement at the results of his political manipulations with ST. MARY’S TODAY taking the sheriff and the commissioner to task for being in the gambling hall when they actually were not.”
Dorsey said that when he confronted Fritz about the information contained in the articles, Fritz denied having contacted the state police about the alleged activities in the Cinderblock Building and the alleged presence of the sheriff and the commissioner.
Dorsey said that Fritz claimed the state police probe at the Cinderblock Building began as an offshoot of a gambling operation in Charlotte Hall.
That operation was later halted after state police conducted a raid and made several arrests.
When Dorsey went back to the state police about the matter, they gave him a copy of the letter Fritz had sent them as an official request for an investigation, after having it typed by his wife, who works in the prosecutor’s office, requesting the state police investigate the presence of the two officials in the gambling hall which formerly was located next to the Sign of the Whale Liquors in Lexington Park.
Dorsey said when he confronted Fritz about lying to him that, there were also other issues taking place at the same time, which led to Fritz walking out, quitting his job with no notice or regard for the several drug cases he was handling, and returning to the practice of law which has led him to become the principal attorney for all of the local drug dealers.
Fritz ran for election as states attorney in 1994, a race he lost in the Democratic Primary and is running once again this year, but now as a newly minted Republican.
Fritz Repeatedly Failed To Give Accounting For Drug Fund
Dorsey also accused Fritz on Thursday of failing to account for thousands of dollars that passed through a drug fund over which the deputy prosecutor had control.
“We had a drug fund that was not audited by the county but was administered by Fritz,” said Dorsey. “He would not account for the money. I told him to give an accounting of the money, and instead, he quit.”
“I repeatedly asked Fritz for a proper accounting of the money, thousands of dollars, and he never provided any such accounting,” explained Dorsey in an interview after the rally. “He would direct that checks be issued to him and not to any specific person. No record was ever furnished as to what then happened to the money. $3,200 in supposedly ‘flash money’ which is never spent and always returned has never been accounted for.”
Fritz, at the time, responded to the warning of the state police that they would not trust him with secret information by saying he would drop cases in which they failed to give him prior information.
“Fritz has masqueraded as being tough on drugs long enough, and it is time to unmask him,” said Dorsey. “He is the attorney for all the drug dealers in the county. He portrays himself as if he is the opponent of drug dealers, but the facts prove otherwise.”
“In the last few years that he was my deputy and in charge of the narcotics division, there were 302 drug distribution cases, serious cases, and there could reasons to drop a few cases, but not the 201 cases that Fritz personally dropped,” pointed out Dorsey about Fritz’s record.
“But now that Fritz is campaigning, he has the audacity to say he will fight the drug dealers,” said Dorsey at the meeting.
Later, the chief prosecutor stated bluntly, “Fritz has lied repeatedly about these matters. His record as a prosecutor was certainly not what he portrayed to the public, and now he makes a very good living off the drug dealers, many of whom pay their attorney fees in the same cash they make from those who are addicted to and use illegal narcotics — the very same cash generated from the two-thirds of crime, chiefly burglaries of homes and businesses.”
Richard Fritz did not return a call requesting a comment on Dorsey’s charges before the press deadline.