Major Mark Forwood, the Harford County Sheriff’s Office’s chief investigator, has been charged with involvement in a theft scheme dating back to November 2009, as well as misconduct in office.
Forwood was charged with a felony count of undertaking a theft scheme in the amount of $1,000 to under $10,000 dating from Nov. 14, 2009 to April 1 of this year. He was also charged with misconduct in office, a misdemeanor, dating from September 30, 2009 to April 12.
Forwood’s attorney Augustus Brown confirmed the charges, but said they did not come as a part of any plea deal.
“No plea deal has occurred,” Brown said. “When we see what the evidence is and we do our investigation in his defense, then decisions about a trial will be made – it is my hope in every case I handle that I may be able to convince the prosecutor to change his mind in some way.”
Brown added that Forwood has not been formally served with the charges, which are often served within a week of being filed, either in person or by mail. The case is unlikely to move forward until Wednesday, when courts reopen after election day.
Forwood’s case has been the political hot potato of the election season, and the charges come just a day before Sheriff Jesse Bane, who hand-picked Forwood as his head of criminal investigations, faces Republican Jeff Gahler in the general election.
The Dagger broke the news of an investigation into Forwood for allegations of “improper conduct” on April 13, when he was suspended with pay. Since then, the investigation has continued with little word on the nature of the allegations facing the 20-year veteran of the department.
Through the last weeks of the election season, Gahler has accused Bane of holding up the investigation until after the election for political gain. No explanation for the timing of the charges was immediately available from the Baltimore County Police Department of Baltimore County State’s Attorney.
Bane said Monday night he had not been aware of the charges until The Dagger called for comment, and had not informed by the Baltimore County Police Department or the Baltimore County State’s Attorney that the charges had been filed. He directed questions about the timing of the action to them, and to Harford County State’s Attorney Joseph Cassilly.
Bane also strongly rebuked the idea of any implied political motive to the charges being made public on the eve of the election.
“If the results [of the investigation] were out today, that’s Baltimore County Police Department’s choice,” he said. “If someone is saying that [there was political motive in the timing], they’re saying that the Baltimore County Police Department is in cahoots with the Harford County Sheriff’s Office. How ridiculous is that?”
“It doesn’t matter when it comes out,” he said. “People are always going to say, why did you do it then. I’m a police officer of 38 years experience…and I know that the results [of an investigation] can come out at any time.”
“All of a sudden, two weeks before the election, it’s an issue,” Bane said, referring to recent media stories in which Gahler claimed unnamed sources told him Bane was delaying the investigation until after the election.
Brown also dismissed the idea that it represented a political hit against Bane.
“I don’t believe anyone should assign any surreptitious motive in the timing of filing the charges,” he said. ”I personally know that the prosecutor did not have his investigation file until quite recently – he was also busy trying a jury trial in Baltimore County and he told me last week he was filing it today.”
“I assume their forensic investigation took them to many places over 5 or 6 months to get receipts, business records and other evidence they were looking at including from out of state,” Brown added. ”I know the Baltimore County Police have thousands of cases they are investigating and since this was not a serious crime against persons, their priorities may have changed as time goes by. I also know the investigators were on vacations at different times over the summer so they couldn’t quickly coordinate with each other the information they were reviewing before finalizing their reports to the prosecutor.”
Reached by The Dagger Monday night, less than 12 hours before the polls opened, Gahler said that Forwood’s alleged actions shouldn’t tarnish the work of the other employees of the Harford County Sheriff’s Office, but do serve notice that new leadership is needed in the agency.
“Our citizens need to know that this is the act of one man that should not cloud the heroic efforts of so many professionals in our Sheriff’s Office. We need to continue to focus on the most important part of this campaign – the safety and security of our families, friends and neighbors. In this case, I have always said that the greater good of those we represent is of paramount importance. I believe that the greater good has now prevailed and we can begin to right the wrongs. This investigation and subsequent court action brings into sharp focus, the need for a positive change with my election as Sheriff of Harford County,” Gahler said.
Check back with The Dagger for further updates on this breaking story.