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'Sad day for our city': Former Baltimore Police chief De Sousa sentenced to federal prison for tax fraud

Saying she wanted to deter other tax-cheating cops, U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake sentenced former Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa on Friday to 10 months in federal prison for tax fraud.

De Sousa had pleaded guilty to three counts of failing to file federal tax returns. He also admitted to deliberately claiming tax deductions for a house he didn’t own, a business he didn’t run and job expenses he didn’t incur.

“This is a sad day for you. It’s also a sad day for our city,” Blake told him. “This city needs a police force it can trust.”

In addition, she handed down 100 hours of community service and one year of supervised release. De Sousa, 54, is expected to report to prison within six weeks.

His prison term marks the downfall of a man once trusted to answer Baltimore’s persistent street violence and scandal in the police ranks. Mayor Catherine Pugh appointed him the city’s top cop in January 2018; he resigned amid the tax charges four months later.

The case left city leaders answering questions about how carefully they vetted De Sousa before promoting him to Baltimore’s 40th police commissioner. He had served 30 years with the department and earned an annual salary of $210,000 when he stepped down. De Sousa stands to collect his routine pension, but that amount was not immediately known.

He appeared in federal court in Baltimore on Friday morning with his two attorneys and a crowd of family and friends. Having resigned from the force, he wore a black suit and tie.

Document: Ex-Baltimore Police Commissioner De Sousa's plea agreement on tax charges »

“I stand here before you humbled and ashamed of what I did,” he told the judge. “I wasn’t being honest and scrupulous about what was in those tax forms.”

De Sousa defrauded the state and federal government of $67,587. He has since cashed in his retirement savings and paid all the money back, his attorney told the court.

“I wasn’t smart enough to go to a reputable tax preparer,” De Sousa told the judge. “I was more focused on getting as much money in that check.”

Federal prosecutors say there are more tax-cheating cops in Baltimore. In court filings, they wrote that investigators uncovered the same fraudulent deductions during the federal corruption case of Det. Jemell Rayam.

“That is not a coincidence,” prosecutors wrote. “The practice of taking fraudulent deductions was information that was shared among officers.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Wise told the judge Friday too many Baltimore police officers show a contempt for the law.

In De Sousa’s case, he deliberately did not file federal tax returns for 2013, 2014 and 2015. De Sousa said he did not file state taxes in those years, too.

When he did file, De Sousa admitted, he falsely claimed allowances to cut the amount of tax money taken from his paychecks. He fraudulently claimed deductions for mortgage interest, property taxes and business losses — he had no mortgage, owned no real property, ran no business.

“Simply put, your honor, Darryl De Sousa is a tax cheat,” Wise said. “This was not a simple mistake. This was not a misfiled form.”

When federal prosecutors announced the charges last May, De Sousa took to Twitter with his defense: “My only explanation is that I failed to prioritize my personal affairs.”

On Friday, Wise showed the judge an image of that Twitter message.

“Wrong, wrong, wrong,” he said. “Inattention and irresponsibility does not cause you to make mortgage deductions when you know full well you don’t own a home.”

The defense attorneys called two people to the witness stand to tell of De Sousa’s character. The two character witnesses told the story of a dutiful son.

Denise De Sousa trembled as she waited for a chance to speak about her little brother. She told the court of De Sousa as a boy taking their great-aunts to doctors’ appointments. They all grew up in New York City in a home with seven people and one bathroom, she said. De Sousa waited up to walk his mother home from the bus stop after her midnight shift.

He moved to Baltimore in the 1980s to attend Morgan State University. Soon enough he entered the police academy and shot up the ranks.

“He always had impeccable character,” said Darren Sanders, a former police officer and now the head of security for the Baltimore Ravens.

By the late 1990s, De Sousa’s parents had fallen ill in New York. He would work his 12-hour shift, then drive to New York and visit. His friend, Sanders, worried about those long days and nights.

“I would say, ‘Bro, be careful. You haven't had any sleep,’” he told the court.

Denise De Sousa said their mother had Alzheimer’s disease and De Sousa insisted they care for her at home. “He said, ‘No, we're not going to put Mama away.”

So he visited on evenings and weekends to help with the care. When his father didn’t want to bathe, he came up to give baths. He would be in the hospital answering police emails and phone calls while doctors saw his mother or father. He gave his older sister money to stock the refrigerator and pay for the heating oil. He covered the property taxes on his parents’ home.

“We almost lost the house,” Denise De Sousa told the judge. “I don’t know how he did it — how he juggled the two.”

De Sousa’s sister and his close friend told all this to the judge and the courtroom. Then they asked for mercy.

On the witness stand, Sanders turned to face the judge.

“I know, from listening to him, how he hurts inside,” he said. “I would beg the court for leniency.”

Prosecutors had called De Sousa’s crime a serial tax fraud stretching for nearly a decade. They asked for one year in prison. His attorney, meanwhile, asked for probation and community service.

“To have only $67,000, it’s a pretty low number,” defense attorney Gerard Martin told the judge. “It didn't make him rich … he was probably spending it on his family.”

The judge was not persuaded. Blake said she felt a need to send a strong message to other tax cheats. De Sousa showed no emotion as she ordered 10 months in prison.

Outside the courthouse, a crowd of reporters waited and called out questions when he emerged.

De Sousa didn’t stop. With his family and attorneys, he walked quickly away.

tprudente@baltsun.com

twitter.com/Tim_Prudente

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