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State of Maryland reaches agreement with retired Baltimore police sergeant to cease charity operations

A retired Baltimore police sergeant has agreed to cease soliciting money for a police charity that the Maryland Attorney General’s Office says misled the public about its operations.

The officer, Richard A. Willard, agreed to the terms as part of a settlement with the attorney general and secretary of state’s offices regarding Willard’s tax-exempt organization, CopStress Inc., the agencies announced.

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“Willard operated a sham charity that exploited a worthy cause — support for our police and law enforcement,” Attorney General Brian Frosh said in a statement. “Shutting him and his charity down safeguards Maryland consumers from another unlawful fundraising scam and clears a path for legitimate law enforcement charities to succeed.”

But Willard said in an interview that he received a “negligible” amount of donations and never misled anyone. He said he agreed to shut down operations because he was facing a $30,000 fine.

“For him to say it’s a sham charity, that’s upsetting,” Willard said. “I couldn’t fight the Attorney General’s Office.”

Willard worked for the Police Department from 1992 until 2012. He was the original sergeant of the Gun Trace Task Force, a decade before its eventual members were found to be robbing residents, conducting illegal searches and lying on police reports. He has not been accused of any crimes.

He is named as a defendant in a federal lawsuit filed by two men against the police department and members of the Gun Trace Task Force. The suit alleges Willard failed to supervise convicted task force Sgt. Wayne Jenkins and other officers when drugs were planted in the car the men were in after a chase in April 2010. The two men, Umar Burley and Brent Mathews, served federal prison time as a result.

More broadly, the lawsuit also accuses Willard and other supervisors of Jenkins of ignoring his history of misconduct at the time and not safeguarding the public from his tactics. Willard declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Willard started CopStress in 2017 in hopes of helping other officers suffering from stress and post-traumatic stress disorder, he said. Willard said he developed PTSD after killing a young man in a shootout in 2005. Willard has said he was sent back to work the next day and was not provided counseling that he sought.

“Officers from across the country would call me,” he said of his charity outreach efforts. “I spent three hours on the phone with an officer in Florida who was getting ready to commit suicide. I kept her on the phone until they got her help.”

Willard said he ran afoul of the attorney general’s office in 2017 for an event he was planning to raise money for a “rapid response team” he hoped to create. The event flyer said it was being hosted by “current and former” officers — Willard said he had active-duty officers on his board. But he said the attorney general’s office said he was misleading people about his charity and its efforts.

The attorney general’s office said he “ignored several requests” from the state to register and document its finances and claimed charitable programming. They said he continued to try to solicit donations after the secretary of state issued a “cease and desist” order regarding the event.

“We were trying to build something from scratch,” Willard said. “I wasn’t scamming anybody.”

The consent order with the state imposes a permanent ban on Willard soliciting charitable donations. A $30,000 fine was suspended as long as Willard complies.

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