Maryland GOP leader to answer to federal charges for impersonating Secret Service agent

After three unsuccessful runs for the Howard County Board of Education, most recently last year, the electoral fortunes of 47-year-old Robert D. Ballinger II were already in doubt. But on June 26, they got decidedly worse.

That's when Ballinger, an Ellicott City resident, was charged in Maryland's U.S. District Court with "impersonating an officer of the United States." According to the charging document-a "criminal information" filed with the defendant's consent in lieu of a grand jury indictment, and which is often followed by a guilty plea-on Valentine's Day this year, Ballinger "pretended to be a United States Secret Service special agent in order to withdraw United States currency from a First Mariner Bank account that did not belong to him and for which he lacked permission or authority."

Ballinger, who did not respond to messages left by phone and email for this article, is scheduled to appear on Aug. 15 before U.S. District Judge Richard Bennett for his initial appearance, arraignment, and plea hearing, according to the court's docket. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of three years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Ballinger's LinkedIn profile and online resume, posted on the jobs-search website, last updated in October 2012, provide extensive details of his political and professional background. He currently works as a staffer for Rep. Joe Pitts, a Pennsylvania Republican, and was the Maryland Republican Party's director of opposition research and communication from 2010 to 2012, and was assistant chief of staff for Republican Robert Ehrlich's gubernatorial campaign in 2010. (UPDATE: Rep. Joe Pitts office says Ballinger was an unpaid intern there in 2012, and does not currently work there.) Prior to that, dating back to 1995, he worked in communications for two Maryland agencies: the Department of the Environment (MDE) and the Department of Corrections.

Ballinger's 2012 campaign website boasts two glowing quotes from Ehrlich and Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley (D). O'Malley's quote, from 2009, credits Ballinger's "history of dedication to education, the environment and the State of Maryland," adding that "his professional background and personal skills, have made him a valuable member of my administration" and says Ballinger's "service will surely be missed by the citizens of Maryland."

Ehrlich's quote says "we, as Republicans, have an opportunity to elect Robert Ballinger to the Howard County Board of Education" and calls him "a leader who will bring fiscal responsibility" to the school board and "ensure a quality education to all students." It closes by saying, "my friend Bob is ready to lead in Howard County. That is why I endorse Robert Ballinger as my partner for education in Howard County. He needs your support and your vote."

According to online Maryland Board of Elections information, Ballinger's campaign committee, Friends to Elect Robert Ballinger, is still open but owes $770 for finance reports it either didn't file or filed late, out of $1,290 in fines it accrued between 2010 and this year.

Dawn Stoltzfus, the Annapolis director of the public-relations firm The Hatcher Group, says she used to work with Ballinger at MDE, and described him as "an Ehrlich hire" for "just about a year." When told about his legal troubles, she expressed surprise, saying, "Oh my God, wow!"

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