A former Baltimore police officer and his wife reported crimes that never occurred to receive insurance payments they were never entitled to, according to a federal indictment unsealed yesterday.
Michael B. Nelson, 26, and his wife, Tierra Spencer Nelson, 23, were charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. The couple are accused of filing falsified reports on a car never stolen, a burglary that did not happen and a fictionalized traffic accident, court papers say. If convicted, they could receive up to 20 years in prison on each count of the five-count indictment.
Court papers say the scheme involved submitting falsified reports worth nearly $10,000 in insurance claims for the Nelsons. The couple also were paid fees by others to file fraudulent paperwork for them, according to the indictment.
A warrant has been issued for Nelson's arrest; he had not been arrested as of last night, law enforcement sources said.
Tierra Spencer Nelson appeared in U.S. District Court in Baltimore yesterday and was released on her own recognizance. Her attorney, assistant federal public defender Joseph Balter, declined to comment.
A telephone number listed for the Nelsons in the 5100 block of The Alameda was disconnected.
According to the indictment, Tierra Nelson falsely reported on Oct. 25 last year to the Baltimore Police Department that her soon-to-be husband's personal vehicle had been stolen.
The information concerning the car was entered into a national crime database and Michael Nelson called his insurance company to report that the car was stolen, court papers say. State Farm Insurance Co. mailed checks to pay off the claim, according to federal prosecutors.
Contacted by a Sun reporter, the office for Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein initially said it would have no comment on the case because authorities were searching for Michael Nelson.
But late yesterday, the office issued a widely distributed news release on the case after learning that The Sun intended to publish a story on the indictment.
Michael Nelson joined the police force in June 2002 and resigned in January this year, according to department spokesman Matt Jablow. Nelson spent part of his career in the city's Western District and, according to court papers, worked in the Central Booking and Intake Center last year.
Jablow said the department has had no indication that other officers were involved in the alleged scheme.
Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, confirmed yesterday that Nelson appeared on a list of officers either under investigation or convicted of crimes.
Charges brought against the Nelsons were a result of a joint city-federal investigation, according to FBI spokeswoman Michelle Crnkovich.
"Public corruption remains a very high priority for the FBI. We are committed to holding those in positions of trust and authority to the highest standard, and to make them accountable for their actions," William D. Chase, special agent in charge of the FBI's Baltimore Division, said in a statement.