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McGrath fraud case: Prosecutors want to limit cross-examination of witness

Federal prosecutors are asking a judge in the Roy McGrath fraud trial to limit the scope of cross-examination of one of their witnesses, citing concerns about inflaming members of the jury.

McGrath, the former executive director of the Maryland Environmental Service who then served as Hogan’s chief of staff for just over two months, is federally indicted on eight counts, including allegations of fraud.

In a motion filed in U.S. District Court, prosecutors wrote that they expect to call a witness who has participated in international big game hunting trips. Prosecutors said there is a concern that McGrath’s attorneys may focus on an emotional but unrelated issue to turn some jurors against the witness’ testimony.

“Pursuing hunting as a pastime is not probative of character for truthfulness or untruthfulness and is, therefore, improper cross examination intended only to cast the witness in a negative light in the minds of some jurors,” prosecutors wrote in their motion. “Cross-examination of a witness regarding his/her/their hunting pastime is solely designed to cause some jurors to dislike the witness or disregard the testimony of the witness just as cross examination of a witness about his/her/their habit of grilling steaks on Saturday nights would taint the witness in the minds of vegetarian or vegan jurors. For some jurors, deer hunting amounts to ‘killing Bambi’ while for other jurors, deer hunting is an acceptable, or even useful, hobby which limits the overpopulation of deer. Regardless of the reaction of individual jurors, the hobby is irrelevant in the context of this case.”

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Prosecutors believe they need the judge to issue the limits because of notes taken by McGrath that were found when investigators seized his iPhone and searched his iCloud account.

“The Defendant noted in his cell phone about the witness that he/she/they ‘frequently vacation[ed] on safaris and other hunting trips, including to South Africa where [he/she/they] participate[ed] in blood sports, killing large animals like Zebras,’ ” prosecutors wrote in their motion. “Defendant also texted a friend with negative comments about the witness and his/her/their hunting-related endeavors.”

A federal grand jury indicted McGrath on eight counts, including allegations that he fraudulently secured a $233,647.23 severance payment from the Maryland Environmental Service by falsely telling the board that Hogan had approved the payment. McGrath is also accused of filing false attendance reports with the agency during times when he was actually on vacation. The indictment alleges he was reimbursed for $170,000 in questionable expenses during his time leading the quasi-government agency.

He is also accused of causing MES to pay a museum money that McGrath had personally pledged to donate. The agency also paid $14,475 in tuition benefits for McGrath to attend a Harvard Kennedy School Executive Education program after he had left MES. Additional charges filed in June allege McGrath faked a document that he claimed proved the governor knew of and approved of the severance payment.

McGrath also faces related state charges. McGrath’s defense attorney, Joseph Murtha, has asked a judge to block prosecutors from mentioning the state charges at the federal trial.

RELATED: McGrath seeks to have state charges, report kept from federal trial

Murtha, of Rice, Murtha & Psoras Trial Lawyers, did not respond to request for comment.

The motion does not identify the witness. It is unclear from the filing what information they would offer in court. Prosecutors wrote the testimony will be “on critical issues in the case and whose credibility must be considered by the jury.”

Prosecutors said such lines of questioning are irrelevant “because hunting as a pastime does not bear on truthfulness (or untruthfulness) and is otherwise unacceptable cross-examination.”

“While the trial court does not have a duty to protect a witness from being discredited on cross-examination, it does have a duty to protect him/her/them from questions posed merely to harass, annoy, or humiliate him/her/them,” prosecutors wrote.