BALTIMORE — Seven Baltimore police officers who were members of an elite gun task force have been indicted in a racketeering conspiracy that accuses them of robbing people, extorting drug dealers, filing false reports and claiming fraudulent overtime.
One of the officers, who allegedly declared in a telephone call, “I sell drugs,” also faces charges in a separate drug distribution case that tipped off federal investigators to the wider corruption case involving the task force.
The officers abused their power and stole by robbing people during unlawful traffic stops and illegal searches or by skimming cash seized amid investigations, said U.S. Attorney for Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein in announcing the indictments.
“This is not about aggressive policing, it is about a criminal conspiracy,” said Rosenstein, who added that at least 10 victims were robbed, including some who had not committed crimes. “These are really simply robberies by people wearing police uniforms.”
The seven officers also are accused of lying about working overtime when they were not working. One who claimed overtime was on vacation in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and another was in the poker room of a casino, federal prosecutors allege.
All told, the seven officers made about $400,000 in overtime pay between July 1, 2015, and June 20, 2016, with at least one officer nearly doubling his $85,000 salary through overtime pay, according to the federal indictment.
Five federal cases that involved police work done by some of the accused officers already have been dropped, said Rosenstein, who is awaiting confirmation to become the next deputy attorney general, the second-highest position in the Justice Department.
The indictments also will have an effect “on numerous active investigations and pending cases in our office,” said Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby.
Local defense attorneys said the arrests could also result in appeals or upend the prosecution of an untold number of cases, as the officers charged will probably be considered unreliable witnesses.
At a news conference, Police Commissioner Kevin Davis called the allegations “heinous acts” and said the officers charged are “1930s-style gangsters, as far as I’m concerned.”
Davis said the acts the officers are accused of “erode trust with our community,” and that “reform isn’t always a pretty thing to watch unfold, but it’s necessary in our journey toward a police department the city deserves.”
The indictments come during a period of uncertainty for Baltimore, which has been the subject of national news since 2015, when Freddie Gray died in police custody and some residents rioted over the case. Gray’s death prompted an extensive investigation of the department by the U.S. Department of Justice that demanded sweeping reforms after finding an entrenched culture of unconstitutional policing that discriminated against black residents in poor communities through arbitrary arrests and detentions.
The seven officers charged under the racketeering statute all live in suburban Baltimore. They were identified as Momodu Bondeva Kenton Gondo, 34, of Owings Mills; Evodio Calles Hendrix, 32, of Randallstown; Daniel Thomas Hersl, 47, of Joppa; Wayne Earl Jenkins, 36, of Middle River; Jemell Lamar Rayam, 36, of Owings Mills; Marcus Roosevelt Taylor, 30, of Glen Burnie; and Maurice Kilpatrick Ward, 36, of Middle River.
The president of the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police, Lt. Gene Ryan, said in a statement that the union was “very disturbed over the charges” and that it would be “inappropriate” to make further comment until the charges are resolved.
The case against the officers began to unfold after federal officials suspected misconduct by Gondo during a 2015 investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The 2015 case involved an investigation into the sale and distribution of heroin and cocaine, mostly at a shopping center in Northeast Baltimore, prosecutors said. Authorities said that Gondo, known as “GMoney,” helped five others charged with selling and dealing drugs avoid law enforcement by alerting them to police surveillance and investigations.
Authorities said they intercepted a telephone call from Gondo in which he allegedly admitted, “I sell drugs.” Gondo is also accused of helping an associate charged in the drug conspiracy remove a GPS tracking device the DEA placed on the person’s car.
The suspected corruption by Gondo prompted a covert investigation into others in the gun squad that included the use of an electronic recording device planted in a Baltimore police vehicle, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors also say that some of the officers turned off their body-worn cameras to conceal their operations and schemed with one another to provide false testimony to internal investigators.
The robbery allegations charge officers with stealing money victims had earned lawfully and, in other cases, taking $200 to $200,000 from suspects in drug and gun offenses.
In one incident, the indictment alleges one officer submitted an affidavit for a search warrant that falsely said police had conducted a full day of surveillance on a suspected drug house. At least three officers later stopped a car with people from that house and took $3,000 in cash, authorities said. Afterward, at the home of those detained, the officers stole $20,000, the indictment states.
The alleged robberies also included stealing $1,500 from a maintenance man of a nursing home, who planned to use the cash for rent and — in the largest case — a theft of about $200,000 from a safe and from bags seized at a search location, authorities said.
In an intercepted phone conversation about the overtime fraud, authorities quoted one officer telling another: “Easy money, J. Easy money,” and “one hour can be eight hours.” Officials said that is a reference to working one hour and claiming to have worked eight.
The gun squad has often been lauded as a productive example of the department’s proactive police work. An October newsletter from Baltimore police highlighted the squad’s “work ethic that is beyond reproach.” In 10½ months, the newsletter said, the team made 110 arrests for handgun violations and seized 132 illegal handguns.
The prosecution of those cases and many others could now be compromised, said Marshall Henslee, a Baltimore defense attorney.
“Anybody who has a Baltimore City criminal case is going to be making sure if any of these detectives or officers are listed as witnesses,” Henslee said. “You’re innocent until you’re proven guilty, but even just being arrested and charged is enough for the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office to say, ‘No way I’m calling you as a witness.’ ”