A Harford County resident who prosecutors say was actively involved in a towing scandal involving Baltimore City police officers entered a guilty plea Monday to extortion charges in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.
Baltimore City police officer Osvaldo Valentine, 39, of the 800 block of Mt. Vernon Court in Edgewood, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit and committing extortion under color of official right, according to the U.S. Attorney for the district of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein.
Federal prosecutors said Valentine was one of several officers whom brothers Hernan Alexis Moreno, of Rosedale, and Edwin Javier Mejia, of Middle River, paid the defendants and other officers to arrange for their car repair company, Majestic, rather than a city-authorized company, to tow vehicles from accident scenes and make repairs.
The prosecutors also said Valentine recruited other officers to join the conspiracy.
According to his plea agreement, while acting in his capacity as a Baltimore Police Department officer at accident scenes, Valentine would contact Moreno and Majestic for towing and repair services for vehicles even though Majestic, in the 7400 block of Philadelphia Road just outside the Baltimore City limits in Rosedale, was not a city police authorized tow company.
In exchange, according to the plea agreement, Mejia or Moreno would pay Valentine up to $300 for each vehicle that arrived at Majestic. Valentine referred vehicles on a regular basis to Majestic in exchange for payment, usually by contacting Moreno via cell telephone.
While on the scene of an accident, according to the plea agreement, Valentine would contact Moreno and provide him with the details of the accident, including the type and extent of damages to the car or cars, insurance information and contact information for the car's owner.
According to the plea agreement, it was agreed that Valentine, while performing his official duties as a police officer, would persuade accident victims to allow their cars to be towed or otherwise delivered to Majestic. He also advised accident victims that they should not call their insurance company until after they spoke to Moreno.
Valentine also recruited other officers to participate in the conspiracy and extortion scheme, according to the plea agreement. From January to September 2010, Moreno or Mejia paid Valentine by check a total of $14,400 for vehicles that he had referred to Majestic. In September 2010, according to the plea agreement, Moreno and Mejia paid Valentine in cash rather than by checks.
The U.S. Attorney's Office said Valentine faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison for the conspiracy, and a maximum of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,0000 or twice the amount of the gross gain or loss derived from or caused by the offense, for extortion under color of official right.
U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake has scheduled sentencing for Valentine for March 12, 2012 at 10 a.m.
Moreno and Mejia have pleaded guilty to the extortion conspiracy and face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison at their sentencing on Nov. 18.
Valentine was one of 17 city officers originally charged in connection with the conspiracy last February. At least five had home addresses in Harford County.
The others from Harford charged were Eric Ivan Ayala Olivera, 35, of Edgewood; Jaime Luis Lugo Rivera, 35, of Aberdeen; Samual Ocasio, 35, of Edgewood; and Leonel Rodriguez Torres, 31, of Edgewood.
Marcia Murphy, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said Tuesday that charges Rivera and Torres are pending, while a superseding indictment with similar charges has since been filed against Ocasio. Charges against Olivera were dismissed.
Including Valentine, nine police officers have pleaded guilty to the extortion conspiracy to date, prosecutors said.