Robbery of pigeon store owners linked to racketeering case against Baltimore police detectives

Donna Curry said she heard the knocks around midnight. At her door stood two men in bulletproof Baltimore police vests. They brought a search warrant, one said.

"We invited them in thinking they were the police," Curry said.

A short time later, the men hurried from her South Baltimore home with $20,000 in cash she had borrowed to pay off her taxes, leaving the Morrell Park woman another victim in a long-running robbery scheme allegedly orchestrated by detectives in an elite unit of the Baltimore Police Department.

"I hollered and told my husband my pocketbook's missing," said Curry, recalling the night of the robbery. "He ran into the kitchen and my pocketbook was in the sink, wide open, with the money gone."

She wondered about the unsolved robbery for nearly three years. Then a grand jury indictment was unsealed Thursday charging two civilian men and linking the robbery to a federal racketeering case against members of the Gun Trace Task Force, a plainclothes police unit deployed to interrupt Baltimore's illegal gun trade.

In the indictment, Baltimore police Detective Jemell Rayam, 36, is accused of hatching the robbery plan, driving the men — his cousin and an acquaintance — to Curry's home, providing them with his police vest, and acting as their lookout.

Rayam's attorney could not be reached for comment Friday. Rayam is being held in jail pending trial in the racketeering case.

"It happened so fast," said Curry, 44, who owns a pigeon store in South Baltimore, the last of its kind in the city, she says.

Curry reported the robbery to police that night of June 27, 2014, she said. Days later she picked out one of the robbers from a photo lineup arranged by police, she said.

"I gave them a recorded statement. They told me internal affairs was going to come talk to me," Curry said. "Internal affairs never talked to me. I never heard anything else."

Baltimore police are reviewing the robbery, spokesman Detective Jeremy Silbert said Friday. He did not comment further.

Curry's husband, Jeffrey Shore, said he called police several times, receiving few answers in the months after the robbery.

"Nobody responded," he said. "I guess they were building a case."

The indictment charges Thomas Finnegan, 38, of Easton, Pa., and David Rahim, 41, of Baltimore, in the robbery.

Rahim's attorney, William Welch III, said, "We're still conducting our own investigation."

Online court records did not list an attorney for Finnegan.

Federal prosecutors said the crime was just one in a racketeering and robbery scheme stretching back to 2011. Rayam and six other officers in the Gun Trace Task Force were indicted on federal racketeering charges in February. They are accused of extorting citizens, falsifying reports and collecting fraudulent overtime payments. The officers initially pleaded not guilty.

In one instance, a detective robbed a stripper in Baltimore County, prosecutors said. In another, officers are alleged to have taken $400 from a man handcuffed in the back seat of a police car.

"The big question is how did they know I had that money," Curry wondered about the two men who robbed her.

She and her husband had borrowed cash from friends and family in 2014 to pay off the debt on a vacant home they bought. She said she kept the cash in their pigeon store, Patapsco Feed & Supplies, when someone broke in one night in early June 2014. A neighbor heard commotion then chased off the intruder. Cash was scattered around the store when police arrived, she said.

"They knew we had that money," she said of police.

About a week later, she said, detectives from the Gun Trace Task Force showed up and searched the store. Officers asked about the money before they left, according to the indictment.

Prosecutors said Rayam told Finnegan and Rahim about the money, and they planned to rob Curry at home, where they expected her to take the money.

Curry said she and Shore heard someone knocking at their home in Morrell Park around midnight on June 27, 2014. Two men entered and one watched the couple while another searched the house.

Finnegan pointed a gun at Shore, saying "sit still and be patient," according to the indictment. Rayam was allegedly parked outside as a lookout and getaway driver.

Curry remembers a hurried getaway: "They said, 'Come on. Come on. Sheriff said, let's go.'"

In five years, other robberies were orchestrated across Baltimore by the unit's detectives, prosecutors said. Those charged in the racketeering scheme also include Wayne Jenkins, Daniel Hersl, Marcus Taylor, Momodu Gondo, Maurice Ward and Evodio Hendrix. The officers each could face as much as 20 years in prison.

Meanwhile, Curry and Shore lost the vacant house. Their cash remains missing.

"They planned it out pretty good," Curry said.

tprudente@baltsun.com

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