Baltimore Police body cam video shows members of the gun trace task force arrested a man for drugs. Eric Snell, a former Philadelphia Police officer allegedly partnered with a gun task force officer to sell the drugs. (Kevin Richardson)
Federal prosecutors peeled back another layer of the Baltimore Police Gun Trace Task Force scandal, telling jurors Tuesday how corrupt officers allegedly funneled drugs to a Philadelphia police officer for sale on the streets there.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Derek Hines told jurors in opening statements that Eric Troy Snell, 34, and his family operated a “full-service drug shop” in Philadelphia that in October 2016 received an influx of heroin from Detective Jemell Rayam, who had stolen it from someone his unit had arrested.
“There was no overhead, no expenses,” Hines said. “It was 100 percent pure profit.”
The first day of Snell’s trial on a federal conspiracy charge featured new testimony from two convicted former city cops — Rayam and Momodu Gondo — who previously have outlined how they got away with stealing drugs, cash and overtime pay for years without being caught. They have not yet been sentenced, with their plea agreements contingent on their testimony against alleged co-conspirators.
Prosecutors say their case against Snell is not only built around testimony from the convicted officers, who pleaded guilty to racketeering charges, but also text messages, cell tower location data and bank statements.
The texts, prosecutors say, show the officers speaking in the coded language of drug dealers. In one message, Rayam asked about “eight tickets to the Orioles home game.”
Hines said “Orioles” referred to ounces, with “eight tickets” being the amount. “Home game” was code for cocaine, because the Orioles wear their white uniforms when they play at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
“This is not police talk,” Hines told jurors. “This is drug talk.”
Snell has pleaded not guilty. His defense attorney David Solomon offered no rebuttal in his opening statement, except to say that the government carried a high burden of proof.
Eight members of the Gun Trace Task Force were charged and convicted of stealing from citizens using their badge and gun. Officers admitted regularly stealing overtime pay, shaking down drug dealers for cash and drugs, and committing home invasions. They lied on court paperwork and feared no recourse, until a federal drug investigation in Harford County caught Gondo on a wiretap talking with drug targets about how to evade law enforcement detection.
Gondo said Tuesday that his stealing dated to 2008 and was ingrained in the “culture” of plainclothes detective work. He said officers stole to build trust with one another.
Rayam, the best man at Snell’s wedding, testified about providing the drugs to Snell and said he made two recorded calls to Snell at the FBI’s direction after his arrest.
Prosecutors played footage from Gondo’s body worn camera from an October 2016 incident in which the officers chased a man, ending in a crash near Mondawmin Mall. The footage picks up at the conclusion of the chase, and Sgt. Wayne Jenkins — described as the “ringleader” of the Gun Trace Task Force — says the officers have recovered half a kilogram of cocaine.
“Just like last time,” Jenkins says to Gondo. “We can get big s---.”
Subsequent phone records show Rayam and Snell in communication, and both traveling to a rest stop at the midpoint between Baltimore and Philadelphia. Later, Rayam urges Snell to pay him back as Jenkins is sending messages hounding him about meeting up.
Rayam also said he had been stealing since around 2008, and that when Jenkins took over the Gun Trace Task Force, it didn’t take long before he asked Rayam if he’d be willing to sell drugs.
“At a bar, he just mentioned to me he had heroin and asked if I could sell it,” Rayam said. “At first, I said no. I felt like I needed the money, so I said I’ll do it for you.”
Rayam testified that despite the stolen cash and overtime pay the officers were reeling in, he was in financial trouble due to a gambling problem.
He said he went to Jenkins’ Middle River home, where Jenkins had raw heroin, pills and other packaged drugs. They decided Rayam would sell 500 grams of heroin and bring back $18,000, with Rayam hoping to keep $4,000 of their take.
A bank photo shows Snell, in uniform, depositing $2,500 into Rayam’s account that prosecutors say was payment for the received drugs.
Snell and Rayam met in 2005 while they were both in the Baltimore Police academy, and were roommates for a time. Snell left the department in 2008, and in 2014 joined the Philadelphia Police. He was fired not long after his arrest last year.
The two officers remained close, with prosecutors showing photos of them traveling and singing karaoke together.
The fallout of the racketeering indictments has pitted the officers against each other, in particular Gondo and Rayam. On the stand Tuesday, Gondo reiterated that Rayam once told him that he fatally shot a man without justification and a higher-ranking commander helped coach him on what to say. Rayam denied the claim, saying the shooting was legitimate.
Gondo also said that Rayam was involved in extensive off-duty robberies, aided by relatives and associates. In a newly-disclosed allegation, Gondo said Rayam once received information from an informant that an apartment building manager had $200,000 cash, and that Rayam and his associates dressed up as mailmen and broke into the home to steal things inside.