xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement

Gun Trace Task Force prosecutors: “We’re not finished”

Former Baltimore Police detective Carmine Vignola, left, shown walking with his lawyer Gary Proctor, was sentenced Thursday in federal court to 18-months in prison after pleading guilty to making false statements to a grand jury about an effort to plant a BB gun at a crime scene. .
Former Baltimore Police detective Carmine Vignola, left, shown walking with his lawyer Gary Proctor, was sentenced Thursday in federal court to 18-months in prison after pleading guilty to making false statements to a grand jury about an effort to plant a BB gun at a crime scene. .(Kenneth K. Lam)

Federal prosecutors who have brought down a dozen Baltimore Police officers through their investigation of the Gun Trace Task Force promised more to come Thursday at the sentencing hearing for the latest officer headed to prison in the long-running case.

Former detective Carmine Vignola is the “12th police officer convicted by the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office. We just charged the 13th,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo J. Wise, referring to a new indictment handed up last month.

Advertisement

“And we’re not finished.”

Vignola, 35, was sentenced to 18 months in prison Thursday, after Wise ripped attempts by Vignola’s defense attorneys to minimize his involvement in a BB-gun planting incident from 2014. Vignola pleaded guilty to lying to a federal grand jury about his role in the incident, as well as not telling the truth about the alleged involvement of a third officer.

“What could be more nefarious than planting a gun and lying about it to the grand jury?” an incredulous Wise said to U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake.

Wise said Vignola’s lies caused the indictment of another officer to contain misinformation. Wise said the episode also pierced the “mythology” that law enforcement officers would tell the truth when testifying before a grand jury. He said Vignola’s conduct was even more disappointing considering that he had been given immunity — and all he had to do was tell the truth.

“They knew how to game the system,” Wise said.

Family and friends of Vignola packed the courtroom, hoping the father of three would be spared jail time. In a brief statement, Vignola apologized for his conduct.

In March 2017, the FBI arrested seven members of the Gun Trace Task Force on charges related to robbing people of cash, dealing drugs they’d seized, theft of overtime and lying about their police work in sworn statements. While continuing to pursue related misconduct, federal authorities learned that in 2014, eventual GTTF ringleader Sgt. Wayne Jenkins had run over an unarmed man with his police vehicle in Northeast Baltimore.

A BB gun was then planted on the scene to justify the incident. Jenkins called Sgt. Keith Gladstone for help; Vignola was with Gladstone when he took the call. At the time, they were working in a separate unit from Jenkins within the Special Enforcement Section.

Advertisement

In January 2018, Gladstone met Vignola in a swimming pool at a YMCA — so they could ensure neither was being recorded — and discussed the potential of being questioned about the incident. Gladstone instructed Vignola to tell investigators that Gladstone retrieved the gun from the trunk of their vehicle and dropped it on the ground at the scene.

But the pair had traveled to the home of a third officer, Robert Hankard, to retrieve the weapon, prosecutors say. Gladstone has pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to deprive civil rights, and Hankard was charged last month and is engaged in plea negotiations, according to a filing by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Vignola’s attorneys, Page A. Pate and Gary Proctor, said in court filings that Vignola “was not involved in the worst abuses of power committed by certain police officers of the BPD, and his involvement with Sergeant Gladstone planting evidence was itself limited.”

Arguing against a sentencing enhancement for abusing his position as an officer, the attorneys said Vignola “did not have, let alone use, any of his authority or privileges as a police officer in connection with his grand jury testimony, let alone to facilitate or conceal his false statements.”

Wise and Assistant U.S. Attorney Derek Hines said in court papers ahead of the hearing that Vignola “did not testify as a civilian witness who happened to be ‘employed’ by the BPD. ... He was called to testify precisely because he was a senior detective serving in an elite plainclothes unit who the government believed, because of these factors, could be trusted to testify truthfully.”

“His crime was not disconnected from his role as a detective in the BPD serving on an [plainclothes] unit. Just the opposite — it flowed from it.”

Advertisement

Blake, the judge, rejected the defense argument that his grand jury testimony was disconnected from his role as a police officer.

In handing down the sentence, Blake said Vignola hadn’t just lied to a federal grand jury but went along with the gun planting incident for years.

“All of these kinds of lies undermines the trust we want to have in the criminal justice system," Blake said.

Sentencing guidelines called for Vignola to receive between 21 and 27 months; Wise and Hines asked for 24 months.

Gladstone pleaded guilty in June, but no sentencing date has been set.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement