Crime reporter Justin Fenton on the testimony of convicted Baltimore police detective Detective Momodu Gondo, testified that he stole money with slain Det. Sean Suiter.
A convicted Baltimore police detective testified Monday in the Gun Trace Task Force trial that he used to steal money with Det. Sean Suiter, the city homicide detective whose fatal shooting in November — one day before he was to have testified before a federal grand jury in the case — remains unsolved.
The claim came on cross-examination of Detective Momodu Gondo, who admitted stealing from people dating back to 2008. Defense attorney Christopher Nieto asked Gondo if he had told the FBI that he stole money when he worked with Suiter and a squad of several other people.
“You’d take money, split it among yourselves?” Nieto asked.
Gondo is one of six gun task force officers to plead guilty in the case, and the last of four to testify for the government in the federal racketeering trial of Detectives Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor. His testimony, based on “proffer sessions” with the FBI last year in which he outlined allegations across the department in hopes of getting a lower sentence, implicated a number of other officers and supervisors as well.
The Police Department said on Monday that the “allegations and actions [are] disturbing, unacceptable, and criminal,” and said Acting Commissioner Darryl De Sousa has formed a corruption investigation unit that will be led by a lieutenant colonel and specifically focus on the actions of the Gun Trace Task Force. The department has said previously that it had internal affairs investigations underway related to the case.
“We are working diligently to investigate and hold those who tarnished the badge and violated public trust accountable for their actions,” police said in a statement. “The citizens deserve better and the hardworking honorable men and women of this agency deserve better.”
Internal affairs investigations are kept under wraps in Maryland, which critics say helped at least some of the officers in the gun unit to avoid being held accountable for years as complaints stacked up.
Meanwhile, Deputy Commissioner Dean Palmere, who for years worked in and supervised plainclothes work, denied accusations that arose in court that he had coached officers on what to say after a fatal shooting in 2009. Palmere also disclosed that he is retiring, which he said he informed De Sousa about two weeks ago.
Monday’s allegations revived the questions about the dormant investigation into the Suiter’s death. The detective was investigating a triple homicide in November when he was shot in the head with his own gun in a vacant lot in West Baltimore, police have said. His death was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner’s office, and remains unsolved despite a $215,000 reward. Colleagues have said Suiter was an honest and beloved cop.
Suiter was shot one day before he was to have testified before a federal grand jury that was continuing to investigate claims involving the Gun Trace Task Force. Police have said that they do not believe there is a connection between Suiter’s killing and his scheduled testimony, and the FBI declined a request by the former police commissioner to take over the investigation.
The Sun has reported that there was internal tension with some investigators believing Suiter’s death could be a suicide or an accident.
Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, the supervisor of the gun unit, was later hit with additional charges that he and Suiter had been involved in a 2010 incident in which drugs were planted on a man who fled and got into a serious crash. The indictment said Suiter did not know that the drugs had been planted, but had been the one who found them.
Umar Burley, who served years in federal prison after pleading guilty in the case, said after his conviction was overturned in December that the officers were masked and pointed guns at him, and that he thought he was being robbed. His attorneys say he made the accusation at the time he was charged.
Sherman “Pops” Basil, Suiter’s 82-year-old uncle who helped raise him in Washington, dismissed the allegations against his nephew.
“Sean has never done anything wrong in his life,” said Basil, noting that Suiter joined the Army right out of high school, served two tours, and then joined the police force. “People will say anything, so I don’t pay no attention to what they say.”
Gondo was the final cooperating officer charged in the case to take the stand in the trial. It was Gondo’s relationship with a Northeast Baltimore drug crew that first led investigators to the corrupt police unit. Gondo was picked up on a wiretap during a Drug Enforcement Administration investigation, which in 2015 was referred to the FBI to begin investigating the role of the officer. That expanded into an investigation into the Gun Trace Task Force, with a recording device being placed in one of their vehicles.
Gondo, who pleaded guilty in the drug case and the police corruption case, faces a maximum sentence of 60 years in prison.
Gondo said he started stealing around 2008, when he began working in specialized units. In addition to Suiter, Gondo named several other officers with whom he said he stole money. Gondo said that a group of officers including Suiter and Maurice Ward, who also has pleaded guilty to racketeering, would steal money and split it up.
He said “in a few incidents” in those earlier years he split up money with longtime partner Jemell Rayam and another group of officers, including Rayam’s former partner Jason Giordano, now a sergeant in the citywide robbery unit, and Michael Woodlon, an officer now employed by Baltimore County.
Giordano continues to work in the robbery unit and has not been suspend, said city police, who would not make him available for comment.
Woodlon was hired by the county department in 2012 and is currently assigned as an officer to the Woodlawn precinct, said a county police spokesman, Cpl. Shawn Vinson.
“We’re aware of the testimony today,” Vinson said. “We’re seeking additional information to advance an administrative investigation.”
Woodlon could not be reached for comment late Monday.
Gondo also said that Rayam had shot someone in 2009, an incident Gondo referred to as a “murder,” and said two officers involved told him Palmere, then a supervisor in the Violent Crimes Impact Division, had visited the scene and “coached” the officers on what to say. Rayam was cleared of wrongdoing in the shooting, but the city paid a $100,000 settlement to the victim’s family in 2013.
Palmere has been a deputy police commissioner since April 2015 and has been closely aligned with the agency’s signature crime-fighting initiatives. Palmere told The Baltimore Sun that he did not coach officers on what to say.
“It’s not true. I would not coach somebody,” Palmere said. “I’ve always taken pride in my ethics and integrity.”
He declined to answer additional questions about the Gun Trace Task Force and his role overseeing plainclothes units.
Gondo testified that he stole for years and lied about it, and said he never worried about internal affairs.
“It was just part of the culture,” Gondo testified. “I wasn’t getting complaints; I wasn’t putting my hands on people.”
He said Rayam and Jenkins brought different dynamics, saying things went downhill once they started working more regularly together in 2012, and that their crimes got even more brazen when Jenkins took over in 2016. Jenkins also has pleaded guilty in the case.
But Gondo maintained that when he arrested someone for having a gun or drugs, it was always a good arrest. He said he never planted evidence or lied in search warrant affidavits.
“I charged people with guns they had. I charged people with drugs they had,” he testified.
Asked why he didn’t speak up about the misconduct he witnessed, before being charged, Gondo said: “If you’re in my shoes … what am I going to say? What is going to happen to me? You have to think like that.”
FBI Special Agent Erika Jensen also testified Monday, showing efforts to investigate time and attendance fraud committed by the officers. Taylor was in the Dominican Republic and New York City on different days when his payslips said he was working overtime. Hersl’s time sheets for an entire month showed him working regular shifts when cell phone location data and receipts showed he was working on his home in Joppa, only venturing into the city on a handful of days.