United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein announced racketeering charges against seven Baltimore Police officers. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
Seven Baltimore police officers who served in a high-profile gun unit were indicted Wednesday on federal racketeering charges — allegations that throw into question scores of cases aimed at getting weapons off the streets.
The officers are accused of shaking down citizens, filing false court paperwork and making fraudulent overtime claims, all while Justice Department investigators were scrutinizing the department for what they concluded was widespread civil rights violations.
One of the officers was also accused in a separate indictment of participating in an illegal drug organization and tipping its members off to investigations.
U.S. Attorney for Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein said the Drug Enforcement Administration began looking at the officers about a year ago while investigating the drug organization. The probe eventually involved the FBI and electronic surveillance — including a recording device placed in a Baltimore police vehicle.
The officers were summoned to internal affairs Wednesday morning and arrested. They were identified as Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, 36, and Detectives Momodu Gondo, 34; Evodio Hendrix, 32; Daniel Hersl, 47; Jemell Rayam, 36; Marcus Taylor, 30; and Maurice Ward, 36.
All seven officers were charged in a racketeering indictment. Gondo was charged in the separate drug case with five defendants who are not police officers.
Rosenstein accused the officers of participating in "a pernicious conspiracy scheme" that "tarnishes the reputation of all police officers."
"These defendants were allegedly involved in stopping people who had not committed crimes, and not only seizing money but pocketing it," he said. "These are really robberies by people wearing police uniforms."
All seven officers appeared in handcuffs and street clothes for initial hearings in U.S. District Court in downtown Baltimore on Wednesday afternoon. Each was represented by a court-appointed attorney. Each affirmed he understood the charges against him.
All of the officers were ordered held pending detention hearings. Hearings for Gondo, Hendrix, Hersl, Jenkins, Rayam, and Ward were scheduled for Thursday. A hearing for Taylor was scheduled for Friday.
Prosecutors and the officers' attorneys will argue at those hearings about whether the officers should be released before their trials.
Family members of several officers were in the courtroom and voiced their support and love before the officers were taken away. Family members declined to comment.
Defense attorneys for the officers said they were still getting acquainted with the allegations in the indictment.
Police union President Gene S. Ryan said union officials were "very disturbed" by the charges against its members.
"These officers are entitled to due process and a fair trial in accordance with the Constitution and the laws of our state," Ryan said in a statement. "It would be inappropriate for me to make any further comment until the charges leveled against these officers are finally resolved."
Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby said the involvement of federal authorities "confirms the inherent difficulties with the BPD investigating itself," and warned the indictment would have "pervasive implications on numerous active investigations and pending cases."
Seven Baltimore police officers have been indicted on various charges, federal authorities announced Wednesday.
Mar 01, 2017 at 8:26 PM
Her office was not involved in the investigation, and was not informed of it until Wednesday morning.
But the federal authorities praised the role Baltimore police investigators played in the case, and Rosenstein and the heads of the Baltimore offices of the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration praised Commissioner Kevin Davis at Wednesday's news conference.
Mayor Catherine Pugh said federal officials told her the indictments "would not have happened ... without the leadership of Commissioner Davis," who she said received a confidence boost from her.
Some of the officers have long been accused of using excessive force or of other wrongdoing. The city has paid out more than $500,000 in settlements in cases involving the officers, according to a review by The Baltimore Sun.
Members of the city's state legislative delegation called for a federal investigation into Rayam in 2009 after he was involved in three shootings over the course of two years. The city has settled multiple lawsuits involving Hersl.
"The majority of these officers have been known to my attorneys as having significant credibility issues," Baltimore Deputy Public Defender Natalie Finegar said. "We have aggressively been pursuing personnel records to be able to highlight the issues with their credibility on the force."
Rosenstein said federal prosecutors quietly dropped five cases involving the Gun Trace Task Force while the officers were being investigated.
As recently as October, the Police Department was praising the unit in an internal newsletter for its work getting guns off the streets. The unit made more than 110 gun arrests in less than 11 months last year.
Davis, who has focused on gun arrests as a major part of his strategy to reduce crime in the city, said the indictments were embarrassing for the department, but also part of its ongoing efforts to root out bad actors and achieve reform. He said officers who engage in misconduct are "pretty savvy" and "know the criminal justice system."
"They're not easy investigations," Davis said. "It takes a while to get there. Today, we're there."
In one incident in September, federal prosecutors said in court papers, the officers stopped an individual leaving a storage facility and said they had a warrant to search his storage unit. They did not, authorities said. Hersl, Jenkins and Rayam then took a sock containing $4,800 and removed $2,000, prosecutors said.
Rayam was recorded telling Gondo that he had "taxed" the man, prosecutors said.
"He won't say nothing," Rayam was recorded saying, according to prosecutors.
A month earlier, prosecutors said, officers pulled a man over, detained him and took drugs and $1,700 from him. No incident report was prepared regarding the stop, prosecutors said.
In another incident in July 2016, prosecutors said, they stole $70,000 and divided the money up.
Prosecutors said the officers alerted each other to potential investigations into their activities, coached each other to give false testimony to internal affairs investigators, and turned off their body cameras to avoid recording their encounters.
The criminal activity occurred throughout 2016, prosecutors said. The Justice Department was investigating the department for much of the year.
Justice Department investigators reported that the department routinely violated individuals' constitutional rights by conducting unlawful stops and using excessive force, among other problems. They concluded that those practices overwhelmingly affected residents of poor, predominantly black neighborhoods.
The Justice Department and the city agreed to terms of a consent decree in January outlining sweeping reforms to the department. That agreement awaits approval by a federal judge.
"We wouldn't be under a consent decree if we didn't have issues," Davis said. "We have issues."
Meanwhile, the officers' work was celebrated by the department. Lt. Chris O'Ree wrote in October that the seizure of 132 guns in less than 11 months was "no small task."
"Their relentless pursuit to make our streets safer by removing guns and arresting the right people for the right reasons has made our City safer," O'Ree wrote.
Prosecutors also said the officers filed for overtime they didn't work. On one day in July 2016, prosecutors said, one of the officers told another about being in the poker room at the Maryland Live Casino in Anne Arundel County. The second officer said he was going to get a drink, prosecutors said. Both filed for overtime that day, prosecutors said.
Jenkins nearly doubled his annual salary of $85,400 with $83,300 in overtime in 2016, prosecutors said. Hersl was paid $66,600 in overtime on top of a base salary of $77,600. Taylor made an extra $56,200 on top of his $66,800 salary.
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"These seven police officers acted disgracefully, they betrayed the trust we have and are trying to build upon with our community at a very sensitive time in our city's history," Davis said. "They acted in a manner that betrayed their fellow police officers. I've said on more than one occasion: good cops hate to work with bad cops."
Baltimore Sun reporter Jessica Anderson contributed to this article.
One was also charged with conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute heroin; distribution of heroin resulting in death; possession with intent to distribute and distribution of heroin and cocaine.