A federal judge handed down a 15-year sentence Friday to a former Baltimore police sergeant who once ran the department's corrupt Gun Trace Task Force, saying his participation in robberies using the authority of the badge emboldened members of the squad.
Thomas Allers, 49, previously pleaded guilty to nine robberies carried out while on duty between 2014 and 2016. He was the first of eight officers convicted in the case to be sentenced.
"It strikes at the foundation of our entire criminal justice system when judges and juries cannot rely on the word of sworn law enforcement officers, because they are covering up their own crimes," U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Blake said.
Federal prosecutors asked for the maximum sentence of 20 years, saying that, as a supervisor, Allers was in a key position to stamp out misconduct as the squad was robbing people, falsifying paperwork and taking unearned overtime pay. Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Wise said the damage caused by the officers' conduct was "immeasurable."
Allers shook his head througout Wise's remarks. His supporters packed the courtroom and told Blake that he was a compassionate father and friend, and an honest police officer. Allers spoke briefly to the court, apologizing for his conduct.
"I will live with this until the day I die," said Allers, wearing a grey prison jumpsuit and holding his hands clasped behind his back.
His wife, Angel, told The Baltimore Sun that her husband maintains his innocence but felt the deck was stacked against him and took a guilty plea, requiring him to take responsibility.
"He did not feel like he was going to get a fair trial, and was being threatened with them stacking charges," Angel Allers said.
She said she hoped Blake would show leniency after hearing about her husband's character.
"She ignored the man and used him as a tool," she said afterwards.
Allers was not part of the original group of seven detectives charged in early 2017. He had been reassigned in June 2016 to a Drug Enforcement Administration task force as the federal investigation of the gun trace unit was ramping up, but officers on the task force who became government cooperators — Detectives Momodu Gondo and Jemell Rayam — told prosecutors they had stolen money with Allers on multiple occasions. Prosecutors then worked to verify the accusations with the victims.
Gondo and Rayam have pleaded guilty to years of criminal activity, including actively aiding drug dealers and committing an off-duty home invasion robbery.
Wise, the federal prosecutor, told the judge that Allers' complicity served as a green light for his officers' bad conduct. On one search warrant, Wise said, the officers encountered a drawer containing $400,000 in cash, and Allers said the money wouldn't be missed.
"Then like locusts, Gondo and Rayam descend and take their cut," Wise said. "That set in motion how Allers as a sergeant and his subordinates would move forward."
One man who had money taken was later killed becaue he was unable to pay back a drug debt, Wise said.
Speaking more broadly about the Gun Trace Task Force case's impact, Wise said the Police Department's structure puts accountability almost entirely on sergeants.
"As the city and the Police Department struggle with the fallout … they'll never be able to devise a structure that does not rely on leaders," Wise said.
The sentencing hearing was moved to the federal courthouse's ceremonial auditorium to accomodate Allers' supporters, who took up nearly every seat. They recalled how Allers overcame dyslexia to live out his dream of becoming a Baltimore police officer, which required persistence: He carried a thesaurus and dictionary with him in his patrol car to help him write his police reports.
A former supervisor in the department's Southern District, retired Lt. Steve Nalewajko, said he never received a complaint against Allers.
In dozens of letters to the court, supporters described Allers as always there when they needed him, going above and beyond to be a good relative, neighbor, friend and colleague.
"He's a thoroughly decent person," said Gary Proctor, Allers' defense attorney.
Allers' son struggled with substance abuse issues, and supporters said it made Allers more compassionate in his street work involving addicts. The indictment against Allers said his son accompanied him during one of the robberies, an accusation that did not appear in his eventual plea agreement. His son was never charged.
Angel Allers said the government never tried to interview her stepson despite accusing him of a crime in the indictment, and called it one of many moves by prosecutors that she said raised questions about the investigation. Authorities declined to respond to the claim.
"Anybody who knows us knows that's the most ridiculous allegation. We never gave him cash, because he would buy drugs with it," she said.
Angel Allers said the government's case relied on accusations from corrupt and untrustworthy detectives in Gondo and Rayam.
Allers had sought to move the two from the unit on four occasions, according to a letter submitted to the court by Elizabeth Geiselman, a retired detective who worked with the unit as a contract specialist.
Wise noted that Allers did not come forward with information about the officers before the federal racketeering case or after his former detectives were charged, and did not cooperate after being charged.
Allers' supporters also said that prosecutors had wrongly characterized a note found in Allers' home, after he was arrested, as a suicide note. They said the note contained lyrics to a song that Allers, a musician who performed in a band, had written.
However, Allers' attorney Proctor also characterized the letter as a suicide note, reading it to Blake in court Friday.
"I [messed] up, and I'm just tired of everything," Proctor read. "I'm so sorry I let my best friend down. ... I'm the most stupid person in the world."