The Office of the State Prosecutor is investigating a criminal complaint brought by a Harford County lawmaker who alleges the county executive illegally spied on him and other public officials.

Harford County Councilman Aaron Penman accused County Executive Robert Cassilly and his administration of monitoring phone and email communication between him, Harford County Sheriff Jeff Gahler, former County Executive Barry Glassman, and several private citizens. In a statement released Monday, Penman said “this effort is believed to have been orchestrated in an attempt to monitor and hinder an ongoing investigation.”

The investigation in question pertains to a transfer of $7 million authorized by the executive in May from the county’s general fund to the county’s emergency services. Penman alleged the transfer violated the county’s charter because he and other council members had not approved the funding.

Cassilly’s office denied it monitored Penman’s email and phone calls, but admitted it examined the county’s servers for communications between Penman, his campaign adviser Joseph Snee Jr., Gahler, and Gahler’s information officer Erik Robey in order to “ascertain whether there was any basis to suspect misuse of county funds,” according to a statement released Monday by Cassilly’s office. The statement also said county policies “make abundantly clear that no user of electronic devices issued by the County has any expectation of privacy … and that the County has the right at any time to inspect all electronically stored information on such technology devices.”

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Penman made his complaint to the Harford County Sheriff’s Office, alleging violations of Maryland’s wiretapping statute, which makes it illegal for anyone to record or intercept a conversation without the consent of all parties involved. Violation of the statute is considered a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

The sheriff assigned detectives to the case and said they will report directly to the office of Harford County State’s Attorney Alison Healey. Her office reviewed the complaint and, according to a statement released late yesterday, “to encourage a transparent and independent investigation,” referred the matter to the Office of the State Prosecutor, which typically takes on cases involving elected officials in the state.

Deputy State Prosecutor Sarah David said she could neither confirm nor deny her office is investigating Penman’s allegations, but acknowledged the circumstances surrounding his complaint are in line with her office’s jurisdiction.

“The Cassilly Administration has weaponized the government to target and spy on those who seek oversight,” said Penman, who called on Cassilly to take a leave of absence while the complaint is being investigated.

Cassilly’s office maintains that “it is well within the authority of the Executive Branch, when faced with allegations of wrongdoing by its own directors or employees, to conduct an examination of the electronic communications located on Harford County servers of the councilmember accusing a county employee of improper use of county funds.”

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Cassilly and Gahler have clashed in the past over funding for the sheriff’s office.

In April, The Aegis reported Gahler accused Cassilly of defunding his office. At issue were two positions in the sheriff’s office and renovations to a precinct house. Penman and his wife Tracy are deputies with the sheriff’s office. He was a corrections officer at the Harford County Detention Center before joining the sheriff’s office in 2001.

Hugo Kugiya is a reporter for the Express Desk and has formerly reported for the Associated Press, Newsday, and the Seattle Times.

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