Baltimore police Detective Jemell Rayam admitted Tuesday in federal court to robbing residents, selling stolen marijuana and heroin, billing for overtime hours he didn't work and forging reports to cover up his crimes — all part of a growing scandal that has ensnared eight officers and brought down the city's elite gun unit.
Further, his signed plea agreement mentions an unnamed police officer from outside the unit who helped plot the robberies, revealing for the first time that the conspiracy might extend beyond the ranks of the Gun Trace Task Force.
Federal prosecutors accused Rayam of a campaign of robbery and extortion stretching back at least seven years, saying he committed 15 robberies between June 2014 and October 2016 alone. They say he relied on an informant to rob the homes of drug dealers and enlisted civilians to help him carry out his crimes, splitting both cash and drugs with them afterward.
"If the case went to trial, the government could prove all these facts?" U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake asked him.
"Yes, your honor," said Rayam, 37, of Owings Mills.
Wearing a bright orange detention center jumpsuit, he spoke loudly and firmly in the Baltimore courtroom. With his brief replies, the officer of 12 years pleaded guilty to one count of federal racketeering conspiracy.
"You do agree you're guilty of this offense?" the judge asked.
"I am guilty, your honor," he answered.
Rayam faces as many as 20 years in prison. Sentencing has not been scheduled.
He became the third police detective to admit wrongdoing in a case with far-reaching implications. Baltimore prosecutors say they've been forced to drop criminal charges against more than 100 people whose cases hinged on the word of the accused officers.
A fourth indicted officer, Detective Momodu Gondo, called "G Money" in wiretapped phone calls, is scheduled to appear in federal court Thursday to change his plea of not guilty. His attorney, Warren Brown, said Gondo will plead guilty to racketeering, as well as to a drug trafficking charge brought in a separate criminal case.
Gondo, 34, of Owings Mills was indicted earlier this year, along with five civilians, of running a heroin ring around the Alameda Shopping Center in North Baltimore. The officer is accused of serving as a confidant and adviser to the alleged drug dealers, once helping them remove a GPS tracking device planted by federal agents. He faces as many as 40 years in prison.
In July, Detectives Evodio Hendrix and Maurice Ward became the first two officers to plead guilty; their sentencings are scheduled next year.
Meanwhile, federal prosecutors are pressing their racketeering cases against the remaining four police officers, including the former commanders of the gun unit, Sgts. Thomas Allers and Wayne Jenkins. Both men have pleaded not guilty, as have Detectives Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor. Their trials are scheduled to begin in January.
The scandal led Police Commissioner Kevin Davis to end plainclothes policing in Baltimore, saying the style encouraged officers to cut corners.
"By the same token, they also got a lot of guns off the street," said Brown, the attorney for Gondo.
Criminal cases against members of the Gun Trace Task Force have deterred other officers across Baltimore from rigorous policing, Brown said. He awoke Tuesday morning to learn six people were shot in Baltimore overnight, he said, as the city continues its grim march to what could be a year of record gun violence, with 266 people killed through September. The criminals are emboldened, he said.
"You have a lot of them carrying weapons and using them with impunity. They know the police aren't policing as aggressively," Brown said.
The indicted officers have all been held in detention since their arrests. A spokesman for the Baltimore Police Department declined to comment Tuesday on Rayam's plea.
With the guilty plea, Rayam admitted to routinely cheating on overtime pay. He once filed for overtime for the hours he spent inside the poker room at the Maryland Live Casino in Anne Arundel County, prosecutors wrote. He earned a salary of about $71,400 during fiscal year 2016, but also received nearly $30,000 in overtime, prosecutors wrote.
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Rayam also admitted to secretly planting a GPS tracking device on the car of a drug dealer so he could rob the man's home once he left. Rayam and a civilian accomplice broke into the drug dealer's apartment in October last year, according to the plea agreement. Rayam wore a ski mask and came armed with his service gun. Together, they stole a Rolex watch, at least $12,000 and 800 grams of heroin. They split the cash; the accomplice sold the drugs and shared his profits with Rayam, according to the plea.
Rayam admitted to more robberies in his plea, saying he devised the plot to rob the owners of a South Baltimore pigeon feed store of the $20,000 they had borrowed to pay delinquent taxes. Further, he admitted to coaching other officers from the unit to turn off their body cameras and lie to internal police investigators.
Rayam's attorney, Dennis Boyle, was asked outside the courthouse why his client pleaded guilty. Such a plea reduces a prison sentence, Boyle said.
"It's always advantageous to plead guilty," he said, "if you think you're going to be convicted."