Seven Baltimore police officers were indicted Wednesday on federal racketeering charges for actions ranging from filing false overtime claims, stealing firearms, and robbing citizens.
The Baltimore Sun reports:
The officers are accused of shaking down citizens, filing false court paperwork and making fraudulent overtime claims, all while Justice Department investigators were scrutinizing the department for what they concluded was widespread civil rights violations.
One of the officers was also accused in a separate indictment of participating in an illegal drug organization and tipping its members off to investigations.
U.S. Attorney for Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein said the Drug Enforcement Administration began looking at the officers about a year ago while investigating the drug organization. The probe eventually involved the FBI and electronic surveillance — including a recording device placed in a Baltimore police vehicle.
The officers’ identities have been released: Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, 36, and Detectives Momodu Gondo, 34; Evodio Hendrix, 32; Daniel Hersl, 47; Jemell Rayam, 36; Marcus Taylor, 30; and Maurice Ward, 36.
The officers, all members of the elite Gun Task Force, are charged with racketeering conspiracy for robberies and extortion while part of the gun-crime unit. Five of the seven are charged with racketeering for shakedowns that occurred before they joined the task force, Reuters reports.
Gondo was charged in the separate drug case with five defendants who are not police officers.
Rosenstein said the officers participated in “a pernicious conspiracy scheme” that “tarnishes the reputation of all police officers.”
“These defendants were allegedly involved in stopping people who had not committed crimes, and not only seizing money but pocketing it. These are really robberies by people wearing police uniforms.”
Federal prosecutors quietly dropped five cases involving the Gun Trace Task Force while the officers were being investigated, Rosenstein said.
In one incident in September, the officers stopped a man who was leaving a storage facility and said they had a warrant to search his storage unit. They did not, authorities said. Hersl, Jenkins, and Rayam then took a sock containing $4,800 and removed $2,000, prosecutors said.
On March 22, 2016, Jenkins, Hendrix, Taylor and Ward “stole money, including approximately $200,000 from a safe they opened and from two bags they seized, and property, including a Breitling men’s wristwatch valued at $4,000 from a search location,” reports Fox Baltimore.
A month earlier, the officers pulled a man over, detained him, and took drugs and $1,700 from him. No incident report was prepared regarding the stop, prosecutors said.
In a July 2016 incident, they stole $70,000 and split the money.
Also in July 2016, three of the officers conspired to impersonate a federal officer in order to steal $20,000 in cash.
In another case, the officers watched a drug home for a full day and then stole $3,000 from people who left the home.
In yet another instance, an officer charged overtime while at a casino when the sergeant in charge was on vacation. Another officer claimed overtime while vacationing in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Prosecutors said the officers alerted each other to potential investigations into their activities, coached each other to give false testimony to internal affairs investigators, and turned off their body cameras to avoid recording their encounters.
The criminal activity occurred throughout 2016. During that time, the Justice Department was investigating the department and found the department routinely violated individuals’ Constitutional rights, conducted unlawful stops, and used excessive force.
Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby said the involvement of federal authorities “confirms the inherent difficulties with the BPD investigating itself,” and warned the indictment would have “pervasive implications on numerous active investigations and pending cases.”
Mosby faced intense criticism for the charges she filed against the officers who were involved in the death of Freddie Gray, a Baltimore resident who died after sustaining a spinal cord injury while in police custody in April 2015.
Mosby’s office was not involved in this investigation and was not even informed of it until Wednesday morning.
Rosenstein made it clear that the officers are presumed innocent until found guilty. The officers charged in the racketeering conspiracy each face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for the conspiracy and for racketeering.
Baltimore City Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said the indictments were “a punch in the gut” for the Baltimore Police Department. “These officers are 1930s-style gangsters as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
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