Baltimore Police officers found guilty of racketeering, robbery in Gun Trace Task Force corruption case

A federal jury convicted two Baltimore police detectives Monday for their roles in one of the biggest police corruption scandals in city history.

Detectives Daniel T. Hersl, 48, and Marcus R. Taylor, 31, were found guilty of racketeering, racketeering conspiracy and robbery. Prosecutors said they and their comrades on the Gun Trace Task Force had acted as “both cops and robbers,” using the power of their badges to steal large sums of money from residents under the guise of police work.

“Their business model was that the people that they were robbing had no recourse,” acting U.S. Attorney Stephen Schenning said after the verdict. “Who were they going to go to?”

Acting Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa said the trial — in which several unindicted officers were also accused of wrongdoing — had uncovered “some of the most egregious and despicable acts ever perpetrated in law enforcement.”

Hersl and Taylor face up to 60 years in prison.

Jurors deliberated for about 12 hours over two days before rendering their verdict about 5:30 p.m. Monday.

In a case where the officers’ victims were black men, the jury of mostly white women elected a young black man to deliver the verdict.

Hersl and Taylor were acquitted of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence. That charge carried a mandatory minimum sentence of five years.

During the trial, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Leo Wise and Derek Hines depicted a unit “willing to do whatever it took to lie, cheat and steal.”

The prosecution was aided by four former task force members who pleaded guilty to racketeering and testified for the government. They identified Hersl and Taylor as part of a crew that had a tacit agreement to take money and split it up. They also covered for each other as they filed for thousands of dollars in unearned overtime pay.

The government gave immunity to admitted drug dealers to secure their testimony that the officers had stolen cash and in some cases drugs from them.

The defense derided the drug dealers and the convicted officers as untrustworthy.

Some of the Gun Trace Task Force officers’ crimes were particularly daring: Taylor was accused of taking part in a robbery of more than $100,000 in the guise of a legal search.

Prosecutors said police handcuffed a man, took his house keys broke into a safe in his basement and found $200,000. They took half the money, prosecutors said, returned the rest to the safe, and then filmed a video showing the officers “discovering” the smaller amount.

The video was played for jurors.

Hersl was charged with taking part in the robbery of $20,000 from a Carroll County home after a man and his wife were detained without having committed a crime. Officers testified that Hersl was among a group that split up the money at a bar afterward.

Officers also testified to routinely violating people’s rights in the course of their work with Baltimore’s plainclothes police squads — profiling people and vehicles, performing “sneak and peek” searches without warrants, using illegal GPS devices to track suspects they claimed to be watching, and driving at groups of men to provoke them to flee so they could be chased and searched.

At least four of the officers in the case have admitted to committing crimes dating back to 2010 or earlier.

Former Detective Momodu Gondo said he did not fear getting caught.

“It was just part of the culture,” Gondo testified.

Now U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake will sentence all eight former task force members. The six who pleaded guilty face maximum sentences ranging from 20 to 40 years in prison.

Sgt. Thomas Allers is scheduled to be sentenced next Friday. He faces up to 20 years. Sgt. Wayne Jenkins is scheduled to be sentenced in April. He faces up to 30 years.

Gondo faces up to 40 years. Detectives Evodio Hendrix, Jemell Rayam, and Maurice Ward face up to 20 years.

De Sousa said the department is moving to terminate the employment of Hersl and Taylor, who have been on unpaid leave since their indictment last March. The other six officers already have been terminated.

In a statement, De Sousa noted the department has created a corruption unit “that will focus, specifically, on this case and the allegations that were made, but were not part of the indictment or prosecution.”

Witnesses, including some of the officers who pleaded guilty in the case, testified to wrongdoing by a dozen officers who have not been charged.

“Let me make it clear: I have ZERO TOLERANCE for corruption,” De Sousa wrote.

Federal prosecutors said their investigation continues, but would not say whether more indictments are expected. In cross-examination, the cooperating officers named other officers with whom they said they stole money.

“We get a lot of information. We get a lot of names,” said Schenning, the acting U.S. attorney. “We investigate those people and we try to find evidence. When we have enough evidence and we submit it to a grand jury and they indict, we'll tell you who we indicted.”

Prosecutors used the racketeering statute, which they typically use against drug crews and gangs, to prosecute the officers for their contributions to the wider conspiracy. That meant jurors heard a wide range of sordid allegations, some that had little to do with the charged officers.

All eight convicted officers now await sentencing. Three other men, including a bail bondsman who was supplied drugs by the unit’s supervisor and split the proceeds with him, have also pleaded guilty. A former Baltimore officer who now works for the Philadelphia Police Department is awaiting trial.

Hersl, who long before his arrest had racked up dozens of citizen complaints, lowered his head into his clasped hands as the first guilty count was read. By the time the recitation was over, he was rubbing his eyes.

After the jury was dismissed, he turned with a stricken look on his face to gaze at his family, which sat in the upper rows of the courtroom gallery throughout the trial.

His attorney, William Purpura, conceded during the trial that Hersl took money in some cases. But as a law enforcement officer, he said, Hersl was authorized to seize money if he believed he had probable cause, and that any money later pocketed was theft or receiving stolen goods, and not robbery.

“We hope the court, after hearing three weeks of testimony, can place Dan Hersl where he belongs, with relative culpability as compared to the other defendants in this particular case,” Purpura told reporters outside the courthouse.

Hersl’s older brother Steve sobbed against a railing outside the courthouse, then defended his brother to reporters. He said Dan Hersl had told family members he wanted out of the unit.

“Danny Hersl was not a monster. He was put in with some monsters, but he wasn’t one of them. He wasn’t a part of this group, and I am 100 percent positive of that,” Steve Hersl said.

Steve Hersl said Police Department leaders were complicit, and should be held accountable as well.

Taylor showed little emotion throughout the trial, and was stoic as the verdict was read. His family and attorneys left without commenting.

Hersl and Taylor opted not to take the stand.

After the indictments, then-Commissioner Kevin Davis disbanded the department’s plainclothes units — known on the streets as “knockers” — and put those officers into uniform. DeSousa says he is rethinking that decision. The agency has said it will implement a fingerprint scanning technology to thwart overtime fraud, and will start ordering random polygraph tests on members of specialized units.

City prosecutors had dropped charges or asked courts to vacate convictions in 125 cases that involved the officers as of December. The public defender’s office says thousands of cases are compromised.

After the verdict Monday, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said “Baltimore is in need of significant reforms within our criminal justice system.”

Others have said police and prosecutors were given repeated warnings about some the officers but failed to act.

“Neither City Hall, BPD’s Internal Affairs, nor the State’s Attorney’s Office was able to uncover and hold accountable the officers at the heart of this criminal conspiracy,” Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, said in statement. “Residents deserve new procedures, practices, regulations, safety valves, and training across city agencies — including the State’s Attorney’s office — to ensure that this cannot happen again.”

Lt. Gene Ryan, president of the local police union that represents rank-and-file officers, said that while Hersl and Taylor “got their day in court, the jury spoke, and they felt the evidence was there” for convictions.

“This just goes to show you that nobody is above the law,” Ryan said. “If you break the law, you’re going to have to pay just like everybody else.

“I wish they had been caught a lot sooner.”

Alex Hilton sat inside the courthouse Monday waiting for a verdict.

Hilton, 38, was arrested multiple times by Hersl. He said he has been haunted by memories of Hersl targeting him, and even moved from the east side of town to the west hoping to get away from him. Hilton said he filed a complaint after one arrest, saying Hersl took his keys, went to his home and took money and other belongings, but nothing came of it.

“Every time I see a police car or a knocker car,” he said, “I’m looking to see if he’s in there. I can’t get his face out of my mind.”

Baltimore Sun reporters Jean Marbella, Kevin Rector and Tim Prudente contributed to this article.

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