O'Malley facing legal questions about buying governor's mansion furnishings at 'junk' prices

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Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley is facing questions about whether he violated state ethics rules when buying furniture from the governor’s mansion at cut-rate prices before his departure.

A Maryland assistant attorney general on Friday asked a state ethics commission to rule on whether O’Malley’s purchases violated rules on state property, according to documents obtained by The Baltimore Sun, which first reported the story.

O'Malley and his wife, Catherine O'Malley, reportedly paid $9,638 for 54 pieces of furniture that originally cost taxpayers $62,000.

The O’Malley administration’s Department of General Services sold the items after declaring them "junk." But an agency rule prohibits the preferential sale of state property to government officials, according to the paper.

The agency also allegedly permitted the sale without seeking bids or notifying the public that the items were for sale.

O’Malley and his wife, a Baltimore District Court judge, reportedly earned a combined $270,000 in state salaries last year.

Representatives for O'Malley, who retired as governor in January because of term limits, said he followed proper procedures and that the furniture was authorized to be discarded.

Among the purchased items were armoires, beds, chairs, desks, lamps, mirrors, ottomans and tables, according to The Sun, in a remarkably detailed, 1,596-word story.

The furniture was used in the residential sections of the mansion, not the public areas. But the sum of the items reportedly was essentially equal to most of the mansion’s taxpayer-purchased furnishings.

The depreciation formula for the items was devised by the Annapolis Capital Complex.

According to the inventory list, the O'Malleys paid $449 for a leather couch that the state bought in 2007 for $2,247; $739 for an armoire that the state paid $3,695 for in 2007; and $764 for a second armoire that the state paid $3,822 for in 2007.

John Griffin, O'Malley's former chief of staff, who spoke on behalf of the former governor, told The Sun that he thinks proper procedure was followed.

Former Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr. faced similar scrutiny after purchasing furniture when he left office in 2008, but to a lesser extent. He paid the state $992 for 21 furnishings that had cost the state $9,904.

Ehrlich, a Republican, purchased mostly low-cost linens, mattresses, pillows, lamps and bunk beds used by his two sons, at prices also set a depreciation formula.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.