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Feds arrest embezzler hired to run green-jobs program in Baltimore Mayor’s Office

July 12, 2013

Renita Franklin-Thrower May 2013 FB profile picThe Baltimore Mayor’s Office of Employment Development (MOED) in 2011 hired a convicted embezzler, only 14 months out of federal prison and still on supervised release, for a $41,000-per-year position to run a green-jobs training program funded by a state grant, according to court records, other public information, and MOED human-resources director Valarie McNeese. The former employee, 47-year-old Renita Franklin-Thrower (pictured), left the position on June 30, and on July 5 was arrested again in the embezzlement case after failing to show up to a May status hearing with her federal judge in Washington, D.C.

 In 2007, Franklin-Thrower pleaded guilty in D.C.’s U.S. District Court to embezzling nearly $30,000 from the American Red Cross, where she’d worked as a payroll administrator at its national headquarters in D.C. Earlier this year, while still working for the city, she pleaded guilty to a theft-scheme charge in Charles County dating to 2008, and received three year’s probation-before-judgment and a five-year suspended sentence.

“Beginning on or about August 28, 2006, until on or about January 11, 2007,” states a 2008 press release from D.C.’s U.S. Attorney’s Office announcing Franklin-Thrower’s four-month prison sentence, “Franklin-Thrower devised a scheme to embezzle money from the Red Cross by using her position in the payroll department to produce Red Cross manual payroll checks made out to herself, to which she was not entitled.”

On July 5, a week after leaving the MOED job, Franklin-Thrower was in Maryland’s U.S. District Court after her D.C. federal judge, Richard Leon, issued a bench warrant for her arrest. The warrant was issued because she’d failed to show up for a May 23 status hearing in her case, in which she’d been found in violation of her supervised release for not reporting her re-arrest in the Charles County case to her federal probation agent and not making required restitution payments to the American Red Cross. For those violations, Leon ordered that she remain on supervised release for another two years.

It was not the first time in Franklin-Thrower’s federal case that a warrant was issued for her arrest. She spent more than a year as a fugitive, after a warrant was issued when she didn’t report as directed in July 2008 to start serving her prison term at Federal Prison Camp, Alderson, in West Virginia. She eventually was arrested in October 2009. Leon then found her in criminal contempt of court, tacked another four months onto her prison sentence, and added another 100 hours of community service to the 200 hours she’d already been ordered to serve. 

Franklin-Thrower’s attorney, federal public defender Shawn Moore, said in a July 12 email that “I really can’t comment at this point.”

City Paper on July 11 sent emails seeking comment and additional information from mayoral spokesperson Ryan O’Doherty and MOED’s spokesperson, Brice Freeman, but they have not yet responded.

Freeman, though, did explain that the program Franklin-Thrower ran – her job title, according to public documents, was the city’s “green navigator contact” for the Maryland Business Green Worker Training program – was part of the Maryland Energy Sector Partnership, “a regional incumbent and new worker grant training program funded as a pilot and demonstration grant” by the U.S. Department of Labor through the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation (DLLR). “Funds were used,” Freeman continued, “to promote skill attainment and career pathways in emerging energy efficiency and renewable energy-related industries that would most likely lead to job placement and retention of jobs through up-skilling.”  

According to McNeese, Franklin-Thrower stopped working for MOED at the end of June – the same time that, according to DLLR spokesperson Maureen O’Connor, the $5.8 million green-jobs training grant expired.

In an email on July 11, City Paper asked O’Doherty and Freeman to “comment or otherwise shed light on how a federally convicted embezzler on supervised release ended up hired there,” and requested to learn: whether Franklin-Thrower disclosed her conviction during the application process; whether anybody Googled her (which turns up information about her federal case) or otherwise researched her background before she was hired; whether the city knew she had an open warrant in Charles County at the time she was hired; whether the city was aware of her federal conviction and hired her anyhow; what the procedures are for reviewing applicants for jobs such as hers; and whether those procedures were followed.

Freeman says answers to those questions are forthcoming, and City Paper will publish them as an update to this story if and when they are provided.