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Lawmakers Push For Answers From Former Maryland Environmental Service Official

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The former director of operations for the Maryland Environmental Service, Matthew Sherring, spent three hours being grilled Thursday by a state legislative panel about his hefty travel and expenses. The hearing is part of an ongoing investigation into a six-figure payout to Roy McGrath, his former boss.

During the hearing, Sherring declined to answer nearly all questions, invoking the 5th Amendment more than 150 times.

Sherring worked for the Maryland Environmental Service, or MES, for about three and a half years, first as “strategic partnerships executive,” and eventually becoming director of operations.

In that time, he took 55 trips, paid for by MES, totaling $91,610.67, according to documents presented during the hearing by Ward Coe, an attorney who questioned Sherring on behalf of the legislature’s Joint Committee on Fair Practices and State Personnel Oversight.

“With respect to questions about your 55 MES-sponsored trips, and MES’s reimbursement of expenses for them,” Coe asked, “your explanation to this committee is that you decline to answer about those trips and expenses because the answers may tend to incriminate you. Is that correct?”

To this and nearly every other question, Sherring’s answer was the same.

“On the advice of counsel and pursuant to my constitutional rights, I respectfully decline to answer that question,” Sherring said.

Lawmakers subpoenaed Sherring to testify about travel and meals he and former MES director Roy McGrath paid for using MES funding.

During the hearing, Coe asked Sherring about meeting McGrath at a previous job and how Sherring came to oversee “strategic partnerships” at MES, a job that did not previously exist.

Coe also asked about reimbursements for local hotels and restaurants.

“You spent the night at the College Park Marriott, correct?” Coe asked at one point. “On the D.C. Metro, how long does it take to get from College Park back to your home in D.C.?”

In August 2018, Sherring stayed at a hotel in Annapolis while he attended a conference there, about a 20-minute drive from his office. He was reimbursed a little over $1,000 for the trip. 

Other trips took him farther from home, such as a 2017 trip to Belgium, for which Sherring sought reimbursement of $3,065.78 in expenses.

Coe also asked about the circumstances surrounding the severance payment of $238,000 McGrath received when he left MES to become Hogan’s chief of staff in June. McGrath resigned that job after The Baltimore Sun exposed his payout in August.

One of the questions at the heart of lawmakers’ investigation is whether Hogan approved of the payout, as MES board members have said McGrath told them at the time. Hogan has denied any knowledge of the severance payment.

Del. Erek Barron, one of the committee’s two co-chairs, pushed for answers about an email exchange in which Sherring appeared to ask for changes to minutes from the board meeting during which McGrath’s severance payment was approved.

“This was an effort to kind of hide what happened with the severance and how it was approved. Isn’t that right?” Barron asked Sherring.

Sherring again declined to answer.

Barron and other lawmakers were visibly frustrated that Sherring refused to answer even simple questions.

“Mr. Sherring and Mr. McGrath took great advantage of their state employment, perhaps wasteful and fraudulent advantage of their state employment — of their taxpayer-funded positions,” Barron said.

The committee has also subpoenaed McGrath and expects to hear from him next week.

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