Gov. Martin O’Malley said Thursday that he was surprised and “very disappointed” when he learned that Richard Stewart, a member of the Governor’s Redistricting Advisory Committee, pleaded guilty last Thursday to failing to pay almost $4 million in federal Social Security and income taxes for a company he owned.

“We had gone through the vetting process,” O’Malley said when he appointed Stewart, a Prince George’s businessman, to the five-member committee that drew the new lines for congressional and legislative districts. “It’s beyond me how anyone would take an appointment like this” and not disclose he was under investigation, said the governor.

O’Malley said he only learned of the plea in the last 24 hours.

In 2007, O’Malley appointed Stewart to the Maryland Stadium Authority. On Thursday, the governor said Stewart had resigned from the authority that builds and operates sports stadiums. He did not remove him from the redistricting committee since “the committee’s job is pretty much wrapped up.”

There was no mention of Stewart or his absence at a three-hour hearing on legislative redistricting by O’Malley and the GRAC in Annapolis Thursday morning.

According to a press release from the Justice Department, from 2003 through at least 2008, as owner of Montgomery Mechanical Services, “Stewart did not collect, truthfully account for and pay over approximately $3,969,337 of Federal Insurance Contribution Act (FICA) taxes and federal income tax withholdings, commonly known as trust fund taxes, from his employees’ wages.”

“According to the terms of the plea agreement,” the release said, “Stewart is required to pay restitution to the IRS in the amount of $5,414,647, which encompasses both the trust fund taxes that he failed to pay and his obligation, as an employer, to pay over a matching portion of FICA taxes.”

Stewart faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 when he is sentenced in April.

Stewart, a Mitchellville resident, chaired Gov. Martin O’Malley’s re-election campaign in Prince George’s County last year.

According to a short bio on the Stadium Authority website, Stewart’s “vision and expertise in business performance resulted in increased profitability, elevated the standing of MMS in the construction industry, implemented many innovations and maximized the firm’s emphasis on customer service.”

Stewart has served as vice chair for the Revenue Authority of Prince George’s County and a member of the Prince George’s County Community Development Corporation. He and his business have won state and national minority business awards.

Stewart’s plea made little news last week, though there was a three-paragraph brief in the Gazette of Politics and Business on Friday that made no connection to his service on the redistricting committee or the Stadium Authority.

The connection was brought to light by a statement from David Ferguson, the new executive director of the Maryland Republican Party.

“The governor’s redistricting plan has been criticized by liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans alike for its partisan and divisive nature,” Ferguson said. “But now, the integrity of the entire map and the process in which it was crafted must be questioned.”

O’Malley said Stewart’s legal problems had no connection to the decisions made on redistricting.

In an interesting irony, the judge due to sentence Stewart in April is Roger Titus, the U.S. District Court judge handling the lawsuit against the congressional redistricting map Stewart helped draw.

—Len Lazarick