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Baltimore officer sentenced to prison in kickback scandal

Officer David Reeping was sentenced Tuesday to eight months in federal prison for his role in a kickback scheme that ensnared more than 60 officers over two years, according to trial testimony, and led to 16 criminal convictions within the Baltimore Police Department, along with numerous suspensions.

Reeping was the first to be federally sentenced in the scandal, which involved officers illegally referring the owners of broken-down and damaged vehicles to a Rosedale body shop in exchange for cash. In some instances, they falsified police reports and even added damage to cars to boost the amounts that shop owners claimed from insurance companies, court records show.

Prosecutors called Reeping a low-level player who quickly accepted responsibility for his actions, and his attorney argued for a term of home detention based in part on those claims. But U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Blake said the sentence needed to send a message of deterrence to others and reflect the seriousness of the crime, signaling that prison is also likely for most of Reeping's convicted colleagues.

"He is, in the range of people involved in this case, among the least if not the least culpable," Blake said. "Countervailing that, of course, is the fact that we have got to, as a community, hold our sworn police officers to a high standard. We must be able to trust their integrity. It's essential."

She said the prison term brings her no pleasure, but is appropriate "considering what this case is about."

The outcome was bittersweet for Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, who said he's made it a mission to root out corruption from the force, despite the public relations consequences. The department's internal investigations section launched the inquiry into the kickback scheme and eventually brought in the FBI.

"Ball your fist up right now as tight as you can and slam your fist into your right eye, that's what it is physically and mentally like for me to do this. But I know I have to do it. ..." he said. "We have a very small percentage of knuckleheads that we have to throw off the bus, and I can't wait to throw them off the bus."

In the past year, a Baltimore officer was found guilty in state court of voluntary manslaughter in connection with a drunken bar brawl that left a man dead. Another officer has been indicted on federal charges alleging that he ran a heroin distribution ring; he has pleaded not guilty.

Last week, an officer was charged with attempted theft from a grocery store, while another was suspended so police could investigate his conduct in the aftermath of a 13-year-old girl's shooting death.

"The Baltimore Police Department has been, unfortunately for the city, the subject of a lot of scrutiny for misconduct and other types of things," Assistant U.S. Attorney Tonya Kelly told the court Tuesday.

She requested a sentence of 10 months for Reeping, 42, though the judge chose a lower term. Reeping admitted referring between four and seven vehicles to the two owners of Majestic Auto Repair — who also have pleaded guilty in the case — for a payout of $1,000. He was ordered to repay the funds to the Police Department.

Reeping's attorney, Jonathan Van Hoven, said his client was struggling financially when he made the decision to participate in the scheme.

"The matter has torn him up; he'll never be the same," Van Hoven said. "The public humiliation alone is quite great."

About a dozen of Reeping's family and friends attended the hearing, including his adult children, wiping away tears throughout the proceeding. Reeping himself broke down while addressing the court.

"I'd like to apologize to Commissioner Bealefeld and the city. It was wrong what I did, it was stupid. I feel ashamed, embarrassed," Reeping said. Being a police officer "is a big dream I had and I let it go. It was a poor decision on my part.

"I apologize to all my family and friends who supported me. I let everybody down. This is totally not me, I swear. I'm very disappointed in myself. I'm sorry."

Friends testified that he was a good person with a good heart, who made some bad choices, and 26 people, including nine current police officers, wrote letters to the court on his behalf.

"He made a mistake, he got mixed up with the wrong clowns, so to speak, people that never should have had a badge in my opinion," Claude Melcher, who identified himself as a Baltimore police officer, told the judge.

Seventeen officers were criminally charged in the case and suspended without pay during the prosecution. One officer, Marcos Urena, 34, pleaded guilty to theft under $500 in state court and was sentenced to six months' probation before judgment in January, after agreeing to quit the force, according to the Baltimore state's attorney's office.

Of the remaining 16 officers charged federally, 13 pleaded guilty — one of them in mid-trial — and one was convicted by a federal jury. Charges against another officer were dropped, and the final officer, Jaime Luis Lugo Rivera, is scheduled for a re-arraignment next week. He previously pleaded not guilty.

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