BY KEN ROSSIGNOL
THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY
LEONARDTOWN, MD. – A review of the agenda for the St. Mary’s Commissioners meeting of July 26, 2022, revealed a list of expenditures for departments of the county government to find more tax money to spend from the Recovery Act. The list includes yet another Mobile Command Unit – this time for the princely sum of $1.5 million. Digging deep into the background of the request finds a long and murky story of how the law enforcement agencies use civil asset forfeiture laws to steal property from persons, many of which haven’t been convicted of crimes, all to fund elaborate, sometimes unnecessary, the largess of equipment, buildings, and budgets.
The St. Mary’s Sheriff’s Department under Sheriff David Zylak, serving from 2002 to 2006, bought a Mobile Command Unit, which isn’t very mobile until hooked up to the back of a powerful truck and is hauled out to crime scenes such as the one for the missing Mark Tippett at Cedar Cove.
Tippett was believed to have been murdered by his wife. A year later, police finally searched the area near his home. Deputies went again to the neighborhood and found his dead body not far from the house, which had been destroyed in an arson fire.
The Command Unit helped Sheriff Cameron take command of the search and provide a dry and climate-controlled place for Cameron’s commanders to assess the progress of the investigation being conducted by cadaver dogs and grid tactics that finally found the corpse. That incident was one of the important examples of how Commanders can use a Mobile Command Unit. Other uses for the immobile Mobile Command Unit are deployment to public events such as the Oyster Festival, Crab Festival, and St. Mary’s County Fair.
The old Mobile Command Unit is also deployed to community events such as the Open House sponsored by the Leonardtown Barrack of the Maryland State Police and the August National Night Out for Crime. The unit may be used for the few fire department carnivals which operate after the murder, which took place at the Hollywood Volunteer Fire Department Carnival on July 8, 2022, with the rest of the planned days of the carnival canceled until police could arrive at a plan to keep the public safe.
A Lexington Park gang fight arrived at the carnival grounds, with fights taking place about the 10 pm hour and developed into a homicide in the parking lot an hour later. The carnival resumes on Friday, August 12, Saturday, and Sunday, August 14, 2022. August 13, 2022.
A Google search for examples of Mobile Command Units immediately produced a webpage owned by a Texas equipment manufacturer claiming that it recently delivered a Mobile Command Unit to the St. Mary’s County Sheriff in Maryland.
The Mobile Command Unit, which St. Mary’s Sheriff Cameron bought from LDV in 2019, cost $283,000 and was purchased with “free money” – a slush fund operated by Sheriff Cameron consisting of civil forfeiture assets.
The fund comes from a variety of sources, such as when a deputy concocts an illegal search by claiming to have seen suspected narcotics in a vehicle during a traffic stop and then suggests that the driver can avoid the long wait for a search warrant to be obtained by giving consent for a search. The arrival of a drug-sniffing K-9 team can also produce probable cause for a search. When the officers find suspected drugs in the vehicle, charge the driver and haul him or her off to the slammer, it may be weeks before the States Attorney drops charges.
Any cash on the person of the driver at the time of the arrest is held and sent to the property department of the St. Mary’s Sheriff’s Department, the same group of people who divided up among themselves a tractor-trailer load of building supplies in 2002 after States Attorney Richard Fritz dropped charges against Wendell Ford.
No charges were ever brought against the deputies involved. Sheriff Cameron reneged on a campaign promise to release the report from the Office of the State Prosecutor if elected in 2006. With Sheriff Cameron covering up for thieves in his agency, some of whom may have retired and been hired back as civilian staff, the public can only guess what happens to cash that winds up in the laps of the St. Mary’s Sheriff’s property held officials.
The original intent of the law to seize ill-gotten gains of criminals engaged in drug trafficking sprang from the legislation enacted in the eighties and nineties to deal with the burgeoning crack cocaine epidemic. Drug dealers often used their cash to buy cars and put those vehicles in the names of family members to protect them from the law.
As more funds wound up in the hands of agencies such as the St. Mary’s Sheriff’s Department, property and vehicles unrelated to the criminal conduct of miscreants were also seized. Some assets were sent to the United States Attorney for seizure, while in St. Mary’s County, the county attorney acted on behalf of the Sheriff to file civil forfeiture proceedings.
COPS USED A BACKHOE TO FIND A DRUG STASH
On October 5, 2001, the St. Mary’s County Board of Commissioners filed a civil forfeiture action against drug dealer Jeffrey Eugene Page of 44724 Shovelhead Road, Callaway, Maryland.
The twenty-three acres with a dwelling built in 2000 by Page was seized and title taken to the property by County Commissioners of St. Mary’s County on June 16, 2003.
Police had satisfied themselves with using a front-end loader that Page had not buried any treasures on the property. In 2005, the Board of Commissioners turned the property over to St. Mary’s Hospital for the final living home of many residents on their way out the door at the St. Mary’s Hospice.
The name of ‘Shovel Head Lane’ may have been disturbing to those visiting loved ones at the facility located at the end of the lane in the Vonders Hill section of Hunting Quarters subdivision, near Cox’s Run in Callaway. As a result, the more soothing name of Hospice Lane was chosen to replace Shovel Head. The building on the site was expanded to 18,000 square feet with a 3500 square foot basement given its popularity with the public. People are dying to get in.
Following an investigation by St. Mary’s Sheriff Narcotics Detective Mark Howard, Jeffrey Eugene Page was indicted by the St. Mary’s County Grand Jury on six criminal charges, three of which were felony counts for allegedly manufacturing and distributing a large amount of drugs. Before the late Circuit Court Judge C. Clarke Raley on January 31, 2002, St. Mary’s States Attorney Richard Fritz dropped all six criminal charges associated with drug dealing with no jail time and no fine. Fritz and Judge Raley both dropped charges against drug dealers in lieu of cash fines being paid in a form of Courtroom Payola.
The drug seizure funds were used to buy Sheriff Cameron’s Mobile Command Unit. This one has an engine and is built on a Freightliner chassis, which came from Asset Forfeiture funds that St. Mary’s Commissioner Michael Hewitt referred to on February 26, 2019, meeting videotaped meeting of the Board as containing $300,000.
The proposed purchase was also listed in the written presentation by the former County Administrator included in the Board Docs of that day’s meeting but without a copy of the proposed invoice for the unit. In the proposal summary, Sheriff Cameron said that the Sheriff’s SWAT team, which he dubs the Emergency Services Team, is used 60 to 100 times yearly.
WHERE’S THE MOBILE COMAND CENTER?
An examination of the Sheriff’s website and Facebook page postings for the past three years do not reveal any photos of the new Mobile Command Unit/Equipment Vehicle.
THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY set about a search for the vehicle and could not find it at the county government storage lots at the Governmental Center or the St. Andrews Public Works facility where other Sheriff vehicles are stored. Some of those lots include dozens of unused new police cruisers and Ford Explorer units that run in the range of $66,000 or more.
The search finally led to an aircraft hanger at the St. Mary’s Airport. A copy of the lease used to rent a hanger for the Sheriff’s Department was requested from the County Administrator.
There were no bids for the purchase of the vehicle due to St. Mary’s County participating in a cooperative of government agencies to make vehicle purchases, as explained in the following statement:
Mr. Rossignol – you asked about competitive bids for the Sheriff’s vehicle – There were none. It was a cooperative purchase through the Houston Galveston Area Council, which is a purchasing cooperative the County routinely sources through. Their cooperative contract was completed and awarded through HGAC. The County does not have the expertise to solicit (highly specialized) vehicles; nor do we have the buying power of a national cooperative. All vehicles purchased by the County, whether a Sedan, Pickup Truck, or Dump Truck, are sourced through State and National Contracts.
David A. Weiskopf
Interim County Administrator/County Attorney
St. Mary’s County Government
The vehicle was listed as a stock unit on the website of the equipment dealer and promoted as one of the firm’s recent deliveries. While the company that manufactured and sold the $288,000 vehicle refers to it as a Mobile Command Unit, Tim Cameron, an accomplished politician skilled in using vernacular to achieve his goals and dupe the public, calls the unit an Equipment Vehicle. Renaming important public events such as ‘recession’ from being defined as two consecutive quarters of economic downturn, as the current Biden Administration has done or Inflation Reduction Act, is not restricted to the loons in Washington, D.C.
Now that Sheriff Tim Cameron has changed the name of the Mobile Command Unit to an equipment storage unit, he is clear to ask for $1.5 million in tax dollars for yet another Mobile Command Unit.
The funds for Cameron’s newest form of Hot Wheels playtime for the boys in blue (mostly wearing black jumpsuits like mechanics in a car dealership) will come from FREE MONEY. Bureaucrats like Cameron always claim that money that comes from Washington or Annapolis is FREE MONEY. Unlike local tax dollars, which the St. Mary’s Commissioners must extract from taxpayers in the form of animal tags, energy taxes, property taxes, income taxes, shares of sales tax revenue, landfill and convenience center fees, etc., the FREE MONEY, to these bozos, is manna from Heaven Above. They fail to demonstrate evidence of more than a single brain cell to understand that all monies being spent and provided in the form of any grant, government program, or another benevolent boondoggle of baloney comes from taxpayers like you.