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Maryland Republicans took potshots this week at Gov. Martin O’Malley for his appointment to his redistricting committee of a Prince George’s County businessman who pleaded guilty last week to tax evasion.

David Ferguson, executive director of the state GOP, said the Dec. 15 guilty plea by Richard Stewart, owner of heating and air conditioning company Montgomery Mechanical Services, calls into question the integrity of the work by the Governor’s Redistricting Advisory Committee.

Stewart, of Mitchellville, pleaded guilty to tax evasion for failing to pay nearly $4 million that he owed the federal government. He was the lone private citizen appointed to the once-a-decade committee after the U.S. Census released its population counts.

The newly drawn congressional map shifts the congressional districts considerably, particularly Maryland’s 6th District currently held by Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, one of only two Republicans holding congressional seats in the state.

Ferguson claimed O’Malley “stood firmly” with Stewart despite his legal troubles.

“While the governor’s loyalty to his political ally and friend should be commended, his overriding responsibility is to the nearly 6 million people in Maryland to produce a just map that accurately reflects our political and natural boundaries,” Ferguson said.

Prior to a public hearing Thursday on the redistricting plan endorsed by Stewart, O’Malley told reporters he was “very disappointed” in the news about Stewart, but that Stewart had not disclosed that tax charges were pending.

“Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction,” O’Malley said. “The notion that anyone would take an appointment like this without disclosing this is beyond me.”

The guilty plea is unrelated to the work done by the commission, and “it’s already fulfilled its duties,” O’Malley said.

From 2003 through 2008, Stewart did not collect and pay $3.9 million in Federal Insurance Contribution Act taxes and federal income tax withholdings from his workers’ wages.

Stewart has agreed to pay restitution to the Internal Revenue Service of $5.4 million to cover the taxes he failed to pay and his obligation as an employer to collect from his employees.

Calls to Stewart’s office seeking comment were not returned.

Stewart faces a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

He is scheduled to be sentenced April 23 in federal court in Greenbelt.

cford@gazette.net