It was billed as the biggest cocaine bust in Baltimore Police Department history: officers from the elite Violent Crimes Impact Division conducting surveillance on a West Baltimore drug trafficker a decade ago found 41 kilograms of cocaine in the back of a truck.
“Just good old fashioned police work from the ground up," read the commendation awarded by the department to officers in on the bust.
But as the Gun Trace Task Force corruption scandal continues to break down the mythology around the department’s hard-charging plainclothes units, federal prosecutors say that record-setting bust was not as it appeared.
Detective Ivo Louvado was charged Thursday with lying to the FBI about participating in a scheme to sell cocaine from that bust. Prosecutors said in court records that he and two others conspired to sell 3 kilograms that were not reported as seized, giving the drugs to a confidential informant to sell and dividing the proceeds among themselves. Louvado’s alleged cut: $10,000.
Louvado is the 14th officer charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the continuing investigation — sparked in 2015 by a drug case that led to a wiretap of a police officer — that uncovered long-running misconduct by members of the Gun Trace Task Force, including robbing citizens, lying in police reports and drug dealing.
Two other officers were implicated in the latest charges — former Sgt. Keith Gladstone, who pleaded guilty to taking in part in a BB-gun planting incident and has not been sentenced yet, and an officer identified only by his initials, “V.R.”
The Sun reported last week that police said Det. Victor Rivera, who was part of the unit at the time of the cocaine bust, was suspended as part of an ongoing investigation. Police now say he retired this month. He has not been charged with a crime.
Attorney Brian J. Murphy, who is representing Louvado, declined to comment late Thursday, and Rivera could not be reached for comment. Gladstone’s attorney has declined to comment.
Louvado, who worked on an ATF task force from 2010 until January 2018, was charged through a criminal information made public Thursday. He was paid $159,000 in salary and overtime last year, according to a city employee database.
Louvado worked on high-profile cases with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, including the prosecution of the Murdaland Mafia Piru, whose leader was sentenced to life in prison last year.
ATF spokeswoman Amanda Hils said in a statement that the agency was “ready to assist the U.S. Attorney’s Office with any information they may need.”
The charging document says “V.R.” sold the cocaine to a confidential informant of his, and that “V.R.” received the proceeds and shared them with Louvado and Gladstone.
The case has been on federal investigators’ radar for some time: Prosecutors say Louvado voluntarily participated in an interview with the FBI in May 2018 and was asked about the cocaine seizure. The defendant charged in the drug bust, Trenell Muprhy, had his federal sentence of 20 years reduced by five years in February 2019 after a joint motion by prosecutors and Murphy’s defense attorney. He is due to be released next January.
The Sun reported last week that Rivera, Louvado and Craig Jester, who also took part in the bust, were suspended along with at least one other officer with ties to GTTF Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, who is serving a 25-year sentence in connection with being the ringleader of the GTTF, and Gladstone.
Here’s how police and federal prosecutors presented the cocaine bust at the time: Jenkins and Jester wrote in court papers that they had received information in late 2008 that someone named “Chuck” had been supplying dealers on the west side, and the officers said they knew “Chuck” was Murphy’s nickname and that he lived on Presstman Street. In February 2009, the officers set up surveillance.
After watching what they said they believed to be a drug sale, the officers got a judge to sign a search warrant for Murphy’s home. There were no drugs inside, the officers said, but Jester asked him about a truck parked outside. Murphy denied owning it, but the officers said MVA records showed it was listed to him.
The officers lifted an unsecured cover on the back of the truck and found cocaine before applying for a search warrant, but never mentioned their sneak peak when seeking permission to search the vehicle. The officers later admitted looking in the truck, and claimed Murphy had led them to the drugs to spare his family from getting “into trouble for something he did,” they wrote in their report.
Murphy’s attorney sought to suppress the search, saying it was illegal. Then-Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip S. Jackson, who is now a Circuit Court judge, argued that the car was “used to facilitate and contained evidence of a crime," and the federal judge overseeing the case, then-Chief Judge Benson Everett Legg, agreed.
“The police may ... conduct a warrantless search if they have probable cause to believe that a vehicle was an instrumentality of a crime,” Legg said in a written ruling. He added that Murphy’s “repeated denials regarding the Chevrolet pickup — which the detectives knew belonged to him — further established that the police possessed the requisite probable cause to conduct a warrantless search of the vehicle.”
The charges against Louvado show a different sequence of events. Prosecutors now say that Louvado and other officers conducted the surveillance, and entered the home and waited inside as Jenkins and Jester obtained the search warrant. Louvado had never before seen the truck parked outside, prosecutors allege now.
After the officers looked in the back of the truck and saw the cocaine, they called the SWAT team to provide protection for the transportation of the drugs to headquarters. But the drugs were put in a surveillance van, driven by Gladstone, prosecutors say.
The charges say that 41 kilograms were submitted as evidence, but Louvado, Gladstone and “V.R.” later found three more kilograms from the Murphy seizure that were left behind. It is not clear whether it was an oversight or intentional.
“Rather than turn this cocaine into BPD, Louvado, K.G. and V.R. agreed to sell the cocaine and split the proceeds from its sale,” the charging document reads.
“V.R.” coordinated the sale with an informant who was a drug dealer, and split the proceeds with the other officers.
The officers received a Bronze Star from the department for the bust and other efforts. The commendation said then-Deputy Commissioner Anthony Barksdale had tasked members of the Violent Crimes Impact Division to step up enforcement and that the squad, led by Sgt. William Knoerlein, “accepted the challenge.”
“In a thirty-day period they arrested five violent traffickers along the I-95 corridor netting 44 kilograms of cocaine with a street value of $5,000,000,” the commendation read. “None of these cases utilized any complex investigative measures, just good old fashioned police work from the ground up.”
Reached for comment Thursday, Barksdale, who retired in 2013, maintained that the misconduct was largely hidden from top supervisors.
“If these guys drifted off and turned to the dark side, I’m not defending them,” Barksdale said.