Former Baltimore Police Gun Trace Task Force Detective Momodu Gondo, who stole money as an officer while aiding members of a drug crew on the side, was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison Tuesday, a substantial credit for his cooperation with the government.
Gondo, 36, of Owings Mills, was the only officer in the case to be charged as part of two separate criminal conspiracies, and as a result faced the steepest possible sentence — 60 years.
But Gondo also offered “powerful testimony” against both groups and at three trials, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Wise, who asked U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake to impose a sentence of 10 years. Sentencing guidelines, which take into account a defendant’s criminal history and other factors, suggested between 15 and 20 years.
“When I balance Mr. Gondo’s conduct against what he has done to make up for it, I believe the government recommendation is a very reasonable one,” Blake said.
Gondo briefly addressed the court, saying he was “truly remorseful for my actions” and apologizing to the citizens of Baltimore.
Gondo’s plea covered crimes between 2015 and 2016, but he has admitted to stealing money as far back as 2008. Among the crimes Gondo admitted to in his plea was acting as a lookout during a home invasion, stealing money during arrests and searches as an officer, arranging the sale of a seized gun and marijuana, and taking thousands of dollars in unearned overtime pay from the city.
“These prosecutions are extraordinarily painful for the city of Baltimore, but they’re absolutely necessary,” U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur said . “Law enforcement at its best does what they’re sworn to do — they protect our community. At the very worst, they use the tools of the trade to actually prey on the community. That’s what Mr. Gondo did, and 10 years in prison is a just result.”
It was Gondo’s contacts with a North Baltimore drug crew that led investigators to the corrupt police unit. Harford County police investigating a rash of drug overdose cases were listening in on a drug dealer’s phone when they learned he was speaking to Gondo.
That spurred an FBI wiretap of Gondo’s phone, with a listening device later placed in his department vehicle. Gondo testified that it was easy to cover up the crimes, and that he never feared internal affairs.
“When we wrote incident reports, if money was taken, if a person had $10,000, we may write we only have $5,000. Take the 5,000 and submit the other five,” he testified last year. “Or sometimes just take everything.”
Wise, the federal prosecutor, said that despite the range of reforms taking place within the Police Department including the federal consent decree, officers will continue to face temptations.
“We can’t design a mousetrap that will eliminate that temptation,” Wise told Blake. “Integrity is the public’s only protection.”
Warren Brown, Gondo’s defense attorney, said the information Gondo provided to authorities pointed to widespread problems within the department. He said the task force officers, pursuing drug targets and taking cash believed to be illicit proceeds, viewed their conduct as “some sort of game.”
“You want to believe it’s a few bad apples, but after a while you begin to wonder if there’s a few good apples,” Brown told Blake.
Blake, in handing down the sentence, said: “It is still my hope and opinion that most police officers in this city and elsewhere are trying their best under difficult circumstances to uphold the law.”
Prosecutors have said in the past that their investigation was ongoing.
Brown told reporters outside the courthouse Tuesday that former Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, who also was convicted, has been cooperating with the government, and likely would receive a sentence reduction.
Jenkins’ attorney Steve Levin said Brown misspoke. He would not comment on any possible cooperation involving Jenkins but said the government had not asked for and was not in the process of seeking a sentence reduction for Jenkins.
Asked whether Gondo’s sentencing signaled a looming end to the case, Hur said only: “We’ll have to see.”
The convicted gun task force officers received sentences ranging from seven to 25 years. Former Detectives Maurice Ward and Evodio Hendrix were sentenced to seven years; former Sgt. Thomas Allers received 15 years; former Detectives Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor, who both took their charges to trial and were convicted by a jury, received 18 years; and Jenkins received 25 years. They are serving their sentences in federal facilities across the country.
Gondo was longtime partners with Jemell Rayam, the only other officer who has not been sentenced. Both were members of the Gun Trace Task Force starting around 2010, well before the rest of the officers joined the squad between 2014 and 2016.
Wise said that the government will ask that Rayam receive a higher sentence than Gondo. After Gondo’s hearing, prosecutors filed notice that Rayam will be sentenced March 8.
Gondo and Rayam both gave incriminating testimony against the other, with Gondo saying Rayam committed an unjustified shooting that was covered up, and Rayam saying Gondo once told him that he “laid someone out,” which Rayam took to mean Gondo had killed someone.
Gondo also incriminated the late Detective Sean Suiter, saying they were part of a squad of officers that stole money in the 2009 time period. Suiter was shot in the head and killed about eight months after the Gun Trace Task Force indictments, and on the day before he was set to testify in front of a grand jury investigating additional claims.
The medical examiner’s office ruled Suiter’s death a homicide, while an independent panel that reviewed the case determined he likely took his own life. Suiter’s family and other officers he worked with have defended his reputation.