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Crime Scenes: FBI wiretap captures cops in colorful conversations

The Baltimore cops called themselves the "untouchables group" and talked in thinly veiled code, referring to alleged payoffs as "coffee," according to a criminal complaint filed by the FBI. They complained about being broke and demanded expedited payments. They made disparaging remarks about the people they were supposed to protect.

Phone conversations and streams of text messages intercepted during a corruption investigation caught police officers in unguarded moments — raw chats laced with profanities and describing meetings in convenience store parking lots to collect money, sometimes with officers pulling up in marked squad cars.

Parts of the wiretaps are quoted in a 41-page indictment unsealed Wednesday in U.S. District Court. They are an integral part of an investigation that became public with the arrests of 17 Baltimore police officers charged with getting kickbacks for steering accident victims to a single car repair shop on Rosedale.

According to the affidavit, the officers called their victims "clients" and talked business even while working shooting scenes. And as is the case in so many wiretap investigations, they were recorded talking about how they should not be talking about what they were doing.

"How much do you pay to refer a crashed car?" Northern District Officer Eric Ivan Ayala Olivera reportedly asked Herman Alexis Moreno Mejia, referred to as Moreno, the co-owner of Majestic auto repair shop, according to the indictment.

"You already know," the owner replied.

The officer professed ignorance.

"Two-fifty," the owner told him, explaining the rules of the game further. "It's not just a matter of calling me. You have to make sure the car gets to the shop."

Later, the same officer seeks more information. "The man here tells me that the way you work is that if I get you a little car with a little soup on it, then you release something on the side?

"Yes, yes," came the answer. "But it's better that we speak in person."

The officers and repair shop owners tried to talk in code. Officer Luis Nunez asked Moreno about a Trail Blazer that had been towed 10 days earlier in January. "Why?" Moreno responded. "It's getting fixed, why are you asking what happened?"

Nunez responded, according to the criminal complaint: "Ha, ha, you forgot my commission."

Said Moreno: "I didn't invite you in for coffee? My bad, then tell me when we can go to get coffee?"

The affidavit says the two met at a 7-Eleven on Pulaski highway.

Working an active crime scene didn't stop Officer Jhonn S. Corona from a lengthy text-message exchange with Moreno after midnight on Feb. 12.

"Dude, are you working?," Moreno asked the officer in a text message intercepted by the FBI.

"Yea, I'm at a shooting. We have a second shooting, maybe a homicide," Corona answered.

"[Expletive], Edwin told me you wanted $1,000," Moreno said.

The officer then complained about bad luck finding more cars and how he needed money. "My pay made me cry, with that 2 percent cut, which is less 100 from my check," Corona texted. "I killed myself to take home 1100 I was mad."

On Jan. 31, the FBI intercepted Northeast District Officer Michael Lee Cross talking with Moreno about a hit-and-run accident involving a 2006 Chevrolet Malibu that had occurred on Truesdale Avenue. "You up? I got one for you, yo," Cross said.

The FBI affidavit says Cross sent a text message to Moreno with the address. Later that morning, the FBI says Cross sent text messages to Moreno complaining about not having been paid. "Were my money," one text said.

"Relax, [expletive]," Moreno replied.

"Relax [expletive] I am broke," Cross answered.

Such exchanges were common.

Officer Henry Yambo got increasingly angry with Moreno and fired off a series of text messages that the FBI says it intercepted on Feb. 1.

"Where's my money?" texted Yambo.

"[Expletive] I have not taken out the coffee," Moreno replied.

"I need my coffee today I'm thirsty," Yambo wrote. He added in another text, "I need it today man I do this to get caffe."

Perhaps most troubling to law enforcement officials is the way some officers appear to have treated people involved in accidents, who were unaware that the seemingly helpful officers were in fact involving them in what prosecuctors say was an elaborate scheme to line their own pockets.

Authorities allege the officers steered accident victims to Majestic and instructed them to delay calling their insurance companies while promising that the repair shop would pay their deductable.

Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein, while addressing reporters Wednesday, highlighted an intercepted conversation between Moreno and Officer Eddy Arias on Jan. 23.

The criminal complaint says Arias is describing to Moreno his encounter with a man at an accident. "I said to him, I would not let anything bad happen to you, I am a policeman, I am not here to [expletive] up your life," the indictment says.

"Arias added that what he really meant was, 'I am here to earn myself some $300, you son of a bitch.'"

peter.hermann@baltsun.com

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