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Harford Sheriff's deputy charged with bribery

Blackmail and ExtortionConservation

A Harford County Sheriff's deputy was arrested Thursday for allegedly taking payments from a Baltimore repossession company for personal information about vehicle owners, the Sheriff's Office reported Thursday afternoon.

Deputy First Class Todd Edward Johnson, 30, was suspended without pay after being taken into custody Thursday at his home in the 400 block of Bonnett Street in Aberdeen. He has been charged with bribery, running a theft scheme, willfully distributing a valid National Crime Information Center code and malfeasance in office, according to sheriff's office press release.

The arrest was the result of a two-month investigation that found Johnson was allegedly providing privileged information to the Baltimore-based Final Notice Recovery and Location, in the 4500 block of Curtis Avenue, the release said.

National Crime Information Center, or NCIC, reports, used by police agencies to determine if people arrested in one jurisdiction are wanted in jurisdictions elsewhere in the country, are not permitted to be released to the general public.

The investigation into Johnson's alleged activities began when the Sheriff's Office Internal Affairs Unit received a tip a deputy was involved in criminal activity, according to the release.

For the past two years, Johnson allegedly used his official mobile data computer to run searches on vehicle license plate numbers provided by the company. He also allegedly used the NCIC database to look for more information on vehicle owners; such information that is not readily available to towing companies or the general public. In exchange, Johnson allegedly received payments for the information, according to the police release.

Johnson has been with the sheriff's office for seven years and was assigned to the Northern precinct, where he worked in the Patrol Operations Division. He was working at the Southern Precinct, however, when the alleged criminal activity occurred.

Shortly after Johnson's arrest Thursday morning, detectives executed search and seizure warrants at his home in Aberdeen and at the towing business in Baltimore, according to the police release.

Sheriff Jesse Bane said in the press release the allegations are disappointing and unfortunate, adding: "Police are empowered with specific tools and resources to do their job effectively. Misuse of those resources is not only unethical, it is illegal."

Bane went on to say in the release: "If these allegations are true, then this is an egregious breach of the public trust and can undermine the confidence the public has in law enforcement."

Sheriff's Office spokesman Eddie Hopkins said of the incident: "I think what you will find among the deputies there is some shock but probably more disappointment than anything," adding, "Police officers take honor and integrity very seriously and are very disappointed when an officer, especially one of their own, is accused of violating these core values."

Hopkins said he did not know yet if anyone involved with the towing company would be charged.

Johnson was taken to the Harford County Detention Center, where, after a hearing before a Harford County District Court Commissioner, he was released on his own recognizance.

Hopkins said there is no indication of a link to a Baltimore case in 2012 in which two Baltimore police officers were sentenced to federal prison for participating in a major extortion scheme and referring car owners to Majestic Auto Repair for towing services and repairs in exchange for payment.

A representative from Final Notice Recovery and Location declined to comment on the incident. Johnson was not available at his home phone number and the voice mailbox was full.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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