Baltimore Police Detective Momodu Gondo robbed people of more than $100,000, often handcuffing criminals only to steal their cash, drugs and guns.
But when it came to his boyhood friend, an alleged heroin dealer, the rogue cop remained loyal and served as a guardian.
Gondo told a Baltimore courtroom Wednesday of his crimes and the code of friendship under which he protected a powerful heroin ring in North Baltimore.
Facing decades in prison himself, the former detective broke that code, testifying in federal court against the man he called his “best friend,” Glen Kyle Wells.
Gondo told jurors he ran interference for Wells and other alleged heroin dealers working with Wells, protecting them from honest police officers who would arrest them and rogue officers who would rob them.
“I was going to make sure no law enforcement actions were taken upon them,” Gondo said in court.
“Even if they were selling drugs?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Wise asked.
“Yes,” he replied.
Gondo, 34, and his former police partner, Jemell Rayam, 37, both testified Wednesday, telling jurors they robbed another drug dealer in October 2015 under a plan hatched by Wells.
Testimony from the two officers — “bombshell witnesses,” one defense attorney called them — closed the seventh day of the trial for alleged heroin dealers operating around The Alameda. Police say the drug crew led by Antonio “Brill” Shropshire, 31, emerged as the largest supplier of heroin to suburban Baltimore and Harford counties.
The trial has proceeded in U.S. District Court despite threats against witnesses. Visitors were banned from bringing electronics into the courtroom out of concern that they might record or photograph those who testified.
After one man testified nervously to buying heroin, District Judge Catherine Blake told the defendants to make no gestures toward witnesses. Wise decided not to bring forth one witness who had been called from a blocked phone number and warned, “Testify and die.”
Still, one person after another entered the courtroom and told of buying heroin from the accused men: Antoine Washington, 27; Alexander Campbell, 29; Omari Thomas, 25; and Wells, 31. All the defendants are charged with conspiracy to distribute heroin. Each man faces a maximum sentence of 40 years or more in prison.
Through days of testimony, patterns emerged among those who spoke of their addiction. Middle-class and suburban, some from Towson or Bel Air, they told jurors their addictions began with prescription painkillers, such as Percocet and OxyContin, before they resorted to the cheaper substitute of heroin. One gram of heroin, they said, cost $120 on the street.
Police and prosecutors say more than 60 people overdosed and 15 died from heroin investigators traced back to Shropshire’s crew.
A wiretap investigation of the alleged drug crew led to Gondo, which then revealed what prosecutors called a rogue unit within the Baltimore Police Department. Prosecutors say members of the elite Gun Trace Task Force robbed drug dealers and innocent civilians for years. Four officers have pleaded guilty to the racketeering conspiracy, including Gondo and Rayam. Four more head to trial next year, including one former commander, Sgt. Wayne Jenkins.
After taking command of the Gun Trace Task Force, Jenkins began targeting Wells last year, Gondo testified.
“He was like an animal, just overly aggressive,” Gondo said. “He was out of control.”
Jenkins texted Wells to arrange a drug buy, but Gondo said they recognized the trap from the awkward slang in the message. Prosecutors played a wiretapped phone call during which Gondo reassured Wells, saying he would confront Jenkins.
He made his move after the Gun Trace Task Force officers robbed a Carroll County couple of $20,000 in July 2016, Gondo said.
“I told him to back off. Basically, that’s my friend,” Gondo said in court.
“What was his reaction?” asked Wise, the prosecutor.
“He basically bowed out,” Gondo said.
Gondo told the court he also tipped Wells off to police whereabouts. And in 2015, he robbed a drug dealer with Wells and his partner, Rayam.
Gondo said he served as the lookout and monitored police radios during the robbery. Rayam and Wells broke into the apartment, suspecting it was empty, but were surprised when they found a woman in a bed.
“I pulled out my gun to startle her,” Rayam told the court. “I was trying to scare her. … I could have even said, ‘I’ll kill you.’ ”
The robbers made off with $12,000, 800 grams of heroin, a Rolex watch with a diamond bezel, a handgun and gold necklace, Rayam and Gondo said.
Rayam has pleaded guilty to a racketeering conspiracy, and he faces as much as 20 years in prison. Gondo has pleaded guilty to racketeering and conspiracy to distribute at least 100 grams of heroin, and faces up to 60 years in prison. Both men remain in jail and are awaiting sentencing.
“What, if anything, do you hope to get for your cooperation?” Wise asked Gondo.
“Leniency, that’s all,” he replied.
Defense attorneys for the five men charged in the federal drug case have asked jurors not to trust the word of heroin addicts and rogue police officers. Marshall Henslee, the attorney for Wells, asked Gondo about all the times he testified in court during his 11 years as a Baltimore officer.
“Did you ever lie on the stand in front of a jury?” he asked.
“As far as taking money, yes,” Gondo said.
“You lied to prosecutors?” Henslee asked.
“Yes,” Gondo said.
“You lied to judges and juries?” Henslee asked.
“You lied under oath in order to protect yourself?” he asked.
“Yes,” Gondo said.