By Tricia Bishop, The Baltimore Sun
7:20 PM EDT, September 13, 2011
Baltimore Police Officer Jhonn S. Corona pleaded guilty Tuesday to federal charges of conspiracy and extortion for accepting kickbacks from the owners of an auto repair shop in a scheme that spread through the department.
Seventeen officers were charged in the case through a criminal complaint, and 10 of them were also indicted by a grand jury, though more charges could be coming. Prosecutors indicated in a court filing last month that they intend to file a "superseding indictment in the fall."
Charges against one officer — Eric Ivan Ayala Olivera — were dismissed late last month. Prosecutors declined to explain the decision Tuesday, and the officer's attorney could not be reached for comment.
Corona, 33, is the seventh officer to take a deal in the case, and the first to be convicted of conspiracy alongside brothers Hernan Moreno and Edwin Mejia, who own Majestic Auto Repair Shop in Rosedale.
The brothers pleaded guilty in July to bribing officers to send accident customers to Majestic for towing services and automobile repairs, and they admitted increasing vehicle damage to boost insurance bills.
In his plea deal, Corona confirmed that he steered people to Majestic in exchange for cash and other payments of between $150 and $300 from the company owners between 2008 and February of this year.
He also admitted damaging his own car, a Honda Civic, to defraud his insurance company. He and Moreno drove it into a pole, court papers claim, and Corona told his insurer that the vehicle had been involved in a hit and run. The company declared it a total loss and cut Corona a check for more than $3,200.
The payments made to Corona, along with the damage intentionally inflicted on vehicles, add up to a loss of at least $120,000, according to the Maryland U.S. Attorney's Office, though the judge will determine the actual loss at Corona's sentencing.
Corona declined to comment through an attorney after the hearing Tuesday. His crimes carry a maximum of 25 years in prison, though he will more likely be sentenced to a term of less than seven years, according to provisions in his plea agreement.
The officer has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors as part of his plea deal, which could lower his eventual penalty. Accordingly, his sentencing was delayed until after the February trial of the remaining defendants. Three other officers have also agreed to delay their sentencings: David Reeping, Michael Cross and Jermaine Rice.
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