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Md. lawmakers appoint independent counsel to lead MES probe

Roy McGrath, former chief of staff to Gov. Larry Hogan and executive director of the Maryland Environmental Service, has been subpoenaed to testify before lawmakers. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

Roy McGrath, former chief of staff to Gov. Larry Hogan and executive director of the Maryland Environmental Service, has been subpoenaed to testify before lawmakers. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

State lawmakers have issued subpoenas to Roy McGrath and a top aide and hired a seasoned attorney to serve as an independent counsel to the ongoing investigation of McGrath’s six-figure severance payout.

The subpoenas for McGrath and Matthew Sherring call for both men to appear and testify before the Joint Special Committee on State Employee Rights and protections. The panel is also demanding that the pair turn over documents related to its review of McGrath’s severance package as he left his position as director of the quasi-public Maryland Environmental Service to become Gov. Larry Hogan’s chief of staff.

Leading that investigation is Ward B. Coe, partner at Gallagher Evelius & Jones, LLP.  Coe comes to the committee having experience both in fraud and internal investigations as well as with the legislative panel reviewing the McGrath severance package.

“Having worked with Ward in this capacity before, I am confident in his ability to lead a thorough investigation and leave no stone unturned,” said House Speaker Adrienne Jones. “We have a responsibility to the taxpayers of this state to ensure that we know the facts, and recoup any inappropriate payments.”

How much the legislature is paying Coe and his firm was not immediately disclosed.

Coe served as a deputy investigator from 1985-1986 during the state savings and loan crisis. He served as counsel to the joint committee during an investigation into the firing of state employees under then-Gov. Robert Ehrlich. He’s also worked on numerous internal investigations related to fraud and personnel matters.

Jones served as chair of the committee during that panel’s review of the Ehrlich administration.

McGrath and the agency have come under scrutiny after he received a severance package of $233,000 plus thousands in expenses, some more than a year old, days after Hogan named him chief of staff. Board members said they felt pressured by McGrath to make the payment but were told by the outgoing executive director, who referred to himself as the chief executive officer, that Hogan knew of the payment and approved it.

Hogan has repeatedly denied that he was aware of or approved of the payment to McGrath.

During his tenure at the agency, Hogan praised McGrath for helping the state’s efforts in handling the COVID-19 pandemic. Following that praise at an April news conference, Hogan announced McGrath would leave the agency to serve as his chief of staff.

McGrath’s time as Hogan’s top aide was short-lived. He resigned the position less than three months in after news of his severance package — equal to one year’s salary — and expenses and travel became public.

Sherring, who worked with McGrath when both men worked for an association that represents chain drug stores, was hired into a position that had not previously existed.

”Mr. Coe has the unique background and experience to lead this inquiry. He understands the need to get to the facts of this situation, without allowing politics to dictate the way this investigation goes,” said Senate President Bill Ferguson. “Marylanders need to be ensured that government employees are not treating the state as their personal slush funds, and I have faith that Mr. Coe, together with the members of the Joint Committee will be able to determine the extent of this investigation.”

McGrath and Sherring are required to turn over a large number of documents by Oct. 23 and to testify before the committee on Oct. 29.

Included in the documents being subpoenaed by the committee are emails, texts and other records related to McGrath’s severance package, the hiring of public relations firms that stepped in once those payments became public as well as documents related to a series of leadership conferences McGrath arranged during his tenure.



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