Baltimore Police Chief De Sousa charged with failing to file taxes, but mayor expresses confidence in him

The Baltimore Sun

Federal prosecutors have charged Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa with three misdemeanor counts of failing to file federal taxes — drawing an admission from him of wrongdoing, but support from the mayor and City Council members.

De Sousa, 53, willfully failed to file federal tax returns for 2013, 2014 and 2015 despite having been a salaried employee of the Police Department in those years, prosecutors said Thursday.

After the charges were unsealed, De Sousa admitted he did not file federal returns — as well as state taxes — for the three years. He said he filed taxes for 2016 and received an extension for 2017.

“There is no excuse for my failure to fulfill my obligations as a citizen and public official,” he said in a statement. “My only explanation is that I failed to sufficiently prioritize my personal affairs.”

De Sousa faces as much as one year in prison and a $25,000 fine for each of the three counts. His initial court appearance has not been scheduled.

Mayor Catherine Pugh expressed “full confidence” in De Sousa.

Update: Baltimore Mayor Pugh places police chief De Sousa on paid leave Friday after federal tax charges »

“As Commissioner De Sousa has explained, he made a mistake in not filing his taxes for the years in question. He is working to resolve this matter and has assured me that he will do so as quickly as possible,” Pugh said in a statement Thursday. “I have full confidence in Darryl De Sousa in his capacity as Commissioner of the Baltimore Police Department and trust that he will continue to focus on our number one priority of reducing violence.”

Pugh was not available for questions Thursday.

The police union that represents rank-and-file officers called on De Sousa to take a leave of absence pending the resolution of the federal case.

Councilman Brandon Scott, chair of the public safety committee and longtime supporter of De Sousa, said he was “extremely disappointed” in the commissioner.

“He knows that at this moment the city does not need any distractions from the reduction of violence in the city and repairing the relationship between the community and the Police Department,” Scott said.

Scott also expressed his faith in De Sousa, but said the commissioner has put city leaders in a difficult position. He said he would be speaking with the mayor about De Sousa’s future.

“Only the mayor can make those decisions,” Scott said.

According to charging documents, De Sousa earned $93,104 in 2013, when he is first accused of failing to file taxes. He earned $101,985 in 2014 and $127,089 in 2015.

De Sousa noted that he had paid some federal, state and local taxes during those years through the withholdings on his paychecks. He said he was working with a tax adviser to address the delinquent filings.

“Naturally, this is a source of embarrassment for me and I deeply regret any embarrassment it has caused the Police Department and the city,” he said in the statement. “I accept full responsibility.”

Update: Some lawmakers, police union say Baltimore police commissioner's apology for tax failings not enough »

The Police Department routinely suspends with pay officers accused of a misdemeanors pending the outcome of the case. De Sousa remained on the job Thursday. He currently earns a salary of $210,000 a year.

A spokesman for the state comptroller declined to answer questions about the status of the commissioner’s state tax filings.

“We don’t discuss an individual’s or business’ tax status,” said Alan Brody, a spokesman for the office.

De Sousa was promoted to Baltimore’s top cop in January after Pugh fired former Commissioner Kevin Davis. She cited stubbornly high levels of violent crime under Davis’ tenure.

Lt. Gene Ryan, president of the local police union, said in a statement Thursday night that the union's rank-and-file members were "very concerned" about the charges against De Sousa, and urged De Sousa to "do the right thing by taking a leave of absence, until such time as this matter is completely adjudicated."

Ryan said the union believes the charges against De Sousa are of a "personal nature," but noted De Sousa admitted guilt and should be treated like officers below him, who would be suspended pending misdemeanor charges against them.

Ryan said the union has confidence in the department's command staff to continue the fight against crime in De Sousa's absence.

A personable commander, De Sousa easily won official confirmation by the Baltimore City Council — without debate — in late February on a 14-1 vote. He is the first commissioner to come up through the ranks of the department since Frederick H. Bealefeld III, who served from 2007 to 2012. Davis and former commissioner Anthony W. Batts were hired from outside.

During his rise through the department, De Sousa held various leadership roles, mostly in the patrol division. He was made a deputy commander of the Northeast District in 2008, then became the commanding officer of the same district in 2011. In 2012, he was appointed lieutenant colonel overseeing the neighborhood patrol division, then colonel and chief of patrol in 2013.

De Sousa is a native of New York but has lived in Baltimore since moving here to attend Morgan State University in 1983. When he was named to the department’s top position in January, De Sousa described himself as “a chess player” who has always been focused on the operational side of policing.

“Everybody that knows me knows I’m a chess player, and I don’t like to be outwitted,” De Sousa said.

Members of the City Council largely stood by the commissioner.

Councilman Robert Stokes, who chairs the committee that handled De Sousa’s nomination, said that the commissioner had his “full support.”

“He issued a statement and he's taking care of his business,” said Stokes, who declined to comment further.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said De Sousa needed to correct any errors, but that he also needed to be able to continue focusing on the work of bringing down crime.

“He needs to own it, which he has, he needs to fix it and keep going with decreasing the numbers in our neighborhoods. Period,” Clarke said.

Ryan Dorsey, the lone council member to vote against De Sousa, said that he had long been concerned the confirmation process was too hasty. Dorsey said he didn’t yet feel he had enough details about the tax case.

“While that information continues to come to light, I feel the most productive discussion we can have in the meantime is one that focuses on the importance of thorough vetting and thoughtful confirmation procedures for such important public positions,” he said.

Councilman Zeke Cohen said he was “deeply disappointed.”

“Law enforcement needs to uphold the law,” Cohen said. “It is of the utmost importance that citizens have faith in law enforcement.”

Del. Luke Clippinger, a Baltimore Democrat, called for Pugh to suspend DeSousa while the case is active and explain why the matter didn’t turn up during the vetting process.

“However, it's a much bigger problem that he didn't reveal this issue himself before he was hired as Police Commissioner,” Clippinger said in a statement. “It goes directly to his credibility as a police officer, much less as Commissioner, that he took the job knowing he was in violation of federal law. It was a willful omission of a material fact as he applied for a job that demands the public’s trust.”

Ari Casper, a white-collar defense attorney in Baltimore, said prosecutors would have to show three things to convict De Sousa: That he received income, that he was required to file a tax return, and that he willfully failed to do so.

“You don't have to show under the statute that he owes money,” said Casper, a former federal prosecutor who is not involved in the case.

Ty Kelly, a former federal prosecutor who was involved in cases against Baltimore police officers, said it’s less common to see a willful failure to file a tax return charge brought by itself.

“They’re oftentimes add-ons to other charges,” Kelly said.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Leo Wise and Derek Hines brought the charges against De Sousa. The two attorneys are also behind the prosecution of the corrupt Gun Trace Task Force squad.

De Sousa isn’t the only public official in the Baltimore area to face federal charges for failing to file taxes. In 2011, former Anne Arundel County Councilman Daryl Jones pleaded guilty to failing to file federal taxes. In his plea agreement, Jones admitted that he failed to file personal income tax returns for four years and quarterly business payroll tax returns for six years. Jones operated a tavern and a law firm. He agreed to pay $108,369.57 and served five months in jail in early 2012.

Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.

tprudente@baltsun.com

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