Victor Rivera almost got away with it, federal prosecutors told a judge Tuesday.
The veteran Baltimore Police officer knew that 10 years earlier he’d stolen three kilograms of cocaine from a drug bust, then sold it back onto the streets using one of his confidential informants. He split tens of thousands of dollars in proceeds with two other officers.
In the fallout of the Gun Trace Task Force corruption scandal, the FBI in 2019 was now looking into Rivera’s deal. The statute of limitations for the crime had long passed — he could tell them the truth, or decline to talk, but he couldn’t be charged.
Instead he sat for a voluntary interview — and lied, prosecutors said. That enabled prosecutors to charge him with lying to federal investigators, for which Rivera will serve 14 months in a federal prison. He resigned from the department right around the time he was charged.
“A message has to be sent that this culture of corruption, the code of silence, whatever it may be called, is unacceptable,” said U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Blake said Tuesday afternoon at his sentencing.
Prosecutors had sought 24 months, saying that while Rivera pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, the conduct the lie was intended to conceal deserved a stricter punishment above the recommended range.
Rivera’s attorney, Steven Mercer, spoke of the “blue code of silence” in arguing that Rivera deserved a lesser sentence or home confinement. He said that while Rivera made the wrong choice when he lied to the FBI, Rivera was remorseful and sought to make up for it by sitting for extensive interviews with two outside reviews of the GTTF scandal. Rivera spoke of his misconduct “and about the misconduct of others,” his attorney said.
“There is a ... blue code of silence that enables a culture of corruption. It’s a very powerful code,” Mercer said. “But Mr. Rivera is a changed man, and the actions he is taking to break that code of silence, which are not of insignificant risk to him, should be recognized.”
Rivera, 49, of Nottingham, admitted in his plea agreement that after officers in his squad made a record drug bust of more than 40 kilograms — prompting a news conference by the department with the drugs laid out on a table — he took three kilograms and gave it to an informant to sell on the street.
He and the informant split tens of thousands of dollars in proceeds along with two other officers, Keith Gladstone and Ivo Louvado. Both officers have pleaded guilty; neither has been sentenced but prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo that they will seek 24 months for Louvado as well.
Mercer said that growing up on New York’s Long Island, Rivera’s parents wanted him to become a police officer or a priest. He chose police, and was thrust into a dysfunctional police department where there was no training about ethics and corruption. He learned how to do the job from more senior officers.
Though he did not provide a name, Mercer said Rivera first witnessed corruption by a superior officer “who was part of the good ol’ boys network” when he was still in his 20s.
Mercer claimed Rivera never engaged in misconduct again after the 2009 cocaine theft, and sought to put it behind him. He was protecting his family and other officers when he lied to the FBI, he said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Wise chafed at Mercer’s comment about officers not receiving training on corruption.
“A police officer doesn’t need to be trained not to steal drugs from people,” Wise said.
Wise also noted that other officers charged in the initial Gun Trace Task Force indictment had cooperated with the government after being charged, and took the stand to testify.
He lamented the results of a tip line, which authorities set up in the wake of the case, hoping to get calls from officers bringing forth more misconduct allegations.
“I have to say the result of that are so disappointing. That outreach effort, didn’t produce a single case,” Wise said. “Instead it was the dogged persistence of the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office.”