A former chief of staff to Gov. Larry Hogan hired a friend to oversee his spending at a previous state job and spent lavishly on the agency’s dime, according to testimony lawmakers heard Thursday.
The ex-chief-of-staff, Roy McGrath, ultimately left his job at the Maryland Environmental Service with a six-figure severance payment before moving on to the governor’s office last year.
McGrath resigned in August, after less than three months on the job, after the Baltimore Sun revealed the severance payment.
Outraged by the expensive arrangement, Maryland lawmakers began investigating the payout and McGrath’s on-the-job spending. Thursday’s hearing was the first in several months after a joint oversight committee paused its probe during the busy legislative session.
The evidence showed that McGrath managed to get thousands of dollars in spending approved even though it appeared to have little connection to MES.
Michael Harris, who testified Thursday that he reviewed McGrath’s spending as the MES finance chief, said he did not feel he had the authority to question expenses that seemed out of the ordinary, including receipts from Disney parks in Florida.
“I assumed that I was only checking for receipts and backup, not approving when he traveled, where he traveled and what was spent,” Harris told the committee.
Harris said that he met McGrath while he was working for the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, and that McGrath later made it clear that Harris could receive a job at MES.
McGrath at that time was serving as the director of the quasi-governmental agency, a post that Hogan appointed him to in 2016.
McGrath went on to spend large sums and submit reimbursement forms significantly after they were due, Harris said. Shortly after McGrath left MES to join the governor’s office, he requested more than $55,000 in reimbursements, which Harris approved.
Sen. Clarence Lam (D-Baltimore & Howard counties) said the pattern was disturbing and showed an “alarming lack of checks and balances” at MES.
“It is deeply troubling that Mr. McGrath was apparently using this state agency almost as a personal ATM, to the point where he was emptying the bank account on his way out the door,” Lam said.
Ward Coe, an attorney for the lawmakers, also presented evidence that another MES employee, Matthew Sherring, attempted to edit the agency’s board minutes to remove any reference to McGrath’s sizeable severance payout.
According to the minutes, McGrath told board members that Hogan knew about and did not oppose the severance payment, which topped $233,000, or about a year’s salary. Hogan has denied knowing about the payment.
Harris testified Thursday that McGrath also told him to attend fundraisers that required contributions to Hogan’s campaign for governor.
“He, at the time, was my supervisor,” Harris said of McGrath. “Me being new, I didn’t know if it was part of my job or what the case was.”
The oversight committee previously subpoenaed McGrath and Sherring, but both largely declined to answer questions, citing their rights against self-incrimination.
The committee’s investigation into the severance payment and other expenses McGrath incurred at MES is ongoing.
Madeleine O’Neill covers the Maryland State House and state issues for the USA Today Network. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @maddioneill.