Baltimore police officer charged in drug corruption case

A Baltimore police officer accepted cash payments and provided protection for a man she believed to be a drug dealer — a man who was actually working with department investigators and FBI agents to build a criminal case against her, authorities alleged Friday.

Ashley Roane, a 25-year-old patrol officer in the Southwestern District, agreed to access law enforcement databases listing informants and other sensitive information for the drug dealer, and provided Social Security numbers to him as part of a scheme to obtain false tax refunds, prosecutors said.

Roane was taken into custody Friday and will not appear in court until Monday, officials said. If convicted of all charges, she faces a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 17 years, U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said.

Roane, who was being held in federal detention, has been suspended without pay. Such suspensions are routine for all officers charged with crimes, according to a police spokesman.

Family members of Roane and Erica Hughes, her 25-year-old roommate who was also charged in the alleged tax scheme, could not be reached to comment. No attorneys were listed in court records for the defendants.

Deputy Police Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez, brought from Los Angeles this year by Baltimore police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts to investigate police misconduct, said he hoped the arrest sent a message to other officers who might be involved in improper activities.

"As painful as this is to get before you and say that we have arrested one of our own, it is the steps that need to be taken in order … [to be] an organization that serves professionally, honorably and seeks to enforce the law without breaking the law," Rodriguez said. "We will do whatever it takes to get there. We are not done."

Several criminal cases have been filed in recent weeks against officers working for the city department, which has 3,200 members.

An officer was charged with human trafficking for allegedly running a prostitution business with his young wife, and another was charged with beating a man in May 2012. Officer James Smith has been charged with murder for allegedly shooting his wife and barricading himself inside of a home last month, leading to a standoff with officers in West Baltimore that lasted hours.

In April, four officers were suspended as part of an investigation stemming from the conviction of Officer Kendell Richburg, accused of aiding an informant's drug dealing in exchange for information that helped Richburg rack up arrests. And the lead detective in the Phylicia Barnes murder case, Daniel T. Nicholson IV, was charged with forcing his way into a home last year and assaulting people while searching for his own missing daughter.

Rodriguez said the department has "zero tolerance" for misconduct. In addition to beefing up internal investigations, he said, police would be performing random audits of officers who access databases to monitor for inappropriate use.

"We don't know what we don't know, but what we do know and what we can prove, we will act upon," Rodriguez said.

City Council President Bernard "Jack" Young, through a spokesman, said he was "encouraged by Commissioner Batts' dedication to removing the few bad officers who unfortunately cast the entire department in a negative light."

The case against Roane, which Rosenstein called a "controlled law enforcement sting," came together quickly. A confidential source approached investigators in February, saying that Roane had spoken to him in the fall and said she could help him deal drugs in the area she patrolled, according to prosecutors.

On Feb. 18, Hughes met with the source to discuss a "money-making venture" in which Roane would pull names, birth dates, Social Security numbers and other information from police databases, according to an affidavit filed in the case. Roane and Hughes believed the source worked at a tax preparation service and asked him to file fraudulent tax returns, and they would split the profits, prosecutors said.

Baltimore police officers assigned to an FBI task force provided funds, which police said Hughes accepted in return for names she said Roane had pulled from a police computer. Under the direction of the task force officers, the source continued to build a list of names obtained through Hughes and Roane and make payments, according to court records.

On March 19, authorities say, the source asked Roane if she could check one of his purported drug associates to make sure he wasn't an informant with the Police Department. The task force officers gave him the name of a fictitious person for her to check on, and Roane later told him that the person had come back "clean," according to the records.

Over time, their relationship evolved to the point where Roane agreed to watch over the source as he carried out what she believed to be a heroin transaction, the records state. She directed him to the Westside Shopping Center in Shipley Hill and said she would "sit in her patrol car by a nearby restaurant with her head down and act as if she was writing a report" while the source and another person purportedly exchanged drugs and money in the middle of the parking lot, according to the affidavit.

On April 24, police said Roane accepted $1,500 in cash — money she believed to be proceeds from the tax scheme — and said she was preparing for next tax season and would give the source names earlier. On April 30, she took $500 as payment for providing protection on a drug delivery, records show.

Even though the transactions were set up by the police, Roane's alleged cooperation led to charges of attempted possession with intent to distribute one kilogram or more of heroin. Because her service weapon was on her hip, she also was charged with possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. Aggravated identity theft charges related to the tax scheme also were filed.

Hughes also faces an identity theft charge and was in custody.

Baltimore Sun reporters Jessica Anderson and Ian Duncan contributed to this article.

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