A former Baltimore police officer and his wife admitted in federal court yesterday that they reported crimes that never occurred so that they could receive more than $10,000 in fraudulent insurance payments.
Michael B. Nelson, 26, and his wife, Tierra Spencer Nelson, 24, each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, a charge that carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
The couple confessed in court to filing falsified reports on a car never stolen, a burglary that did not happen and a fictionalized traffic accident. The couple also were paid fees by others to file fraudulent paperwork for them, according to their plea agreements.
"This is a pretty egregious offense in this day and age," U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett told Michael Nelson during the 30-minute hearing yesterday.
It was impossible to tell yesterday what kind of prison sentence, if any, the couple might receive because the recommended guidelines in the case have not been fully calculated, Bennett said.
An attorney for Michael Nelson said that he would seek a reduction in punishment based on his client's past public service as a police officer, a move the federal prosecutor said she would oppose.
Also, Tierra Nelson's lawyer, Gary Christopher, said that he would be looking to reduce the possibility of a prison sentence by asking the judge to discount his client's two previous criminal convictions, which were not described in court yesterday.
Michael Nelson joined the city police force in June 2002 and resigned in January. He spent part of his career in the city's Western District and worked in the Central Booking and Intake Center last year, police officials have said.
The Nelsons, who lived in the 5100 block of The Alameda, were released until their sentencing, scheduled for Sept. 7. They and their attorneys declined to comment after the hearing.
According to the plea agreements, Tierra Nelson on Oct. 25 falsely reported 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.
Sometime before Nov. 16, Tierra Nelson told a confidential informant working with the FBI that her husband was selling fraudulent police reports that could be used to get money from insurance companies, according to court papers.
Prosecutors said they could have proved at trial that Nelson prepared false police reports for the informant to support two false home burglary claims for items purportedly stolen and valued at $9,775, and a false automobile accident claim alleging personal injury. The informant, authorities said, paid Nelson and his wife $850 for the three reports.
On Dec. 27, the Nelsons met with the informant again, this time to store a car for the informant's "cousin" so that the car could be falsely reported stolen. The informant paid Nelson and his wife $725 to store the car and prepare a false police report, prosecutors said.
According to authorities, the car was owned by the Baltimore City Police Department and was valued at $11,575. A few days later, the car was recovered from an alley where the Nelsons had left it, prosecutors said.
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