A former Baltimore County police cadet who was accused of stealing cash and thousands of pills from an evidence room pleaded guilty Wednesday to theft and drug charges.
Authorities say Nicholas Michael Ishmael, 21, stole oxycodone, cocaine, morphine andtens of thousands of dollars from the evidence vault at department headquarters in Towson.
After police discovered items were missing from the evidence room last spring, the department audited hundreds of thousands of pieces of evidence and tightened security.
The Parkville man,who wore a dark suit for his appearance in Baltimore County Circuit Court, pleaded guilty to one count each of theft and possession of oxycodone with intent to distribute. Prosecutors dropped other charges as part of a plea agreement.
Judge Robert E. Cahill Jr. scheduled sentencing for April 1. Prosecutors have said they will seek a 10-year sentence.
Police Chief Jim Johnson said last year that he ordered an internal investigation after a homicide detective went to retrieve drug evidence for a case that was being tried and found it missing.
Police said Ishmael stole evidence from about 15 narcotics cases, and he was fired.
In court Wednesday, Assistant State's Attorney Daniel Trimble said surveillance and a review of work records led investigators to Ishmael. The cadet had worked in the Evidence Management Unit since August 2013.
Ishmael was arrested outside police headquarters in June. Trimble said he had more than $40,000 in cash in a drawstring bag and drugs in his vehicle. At his home,Trimble said, police foundevidence, inventory papers, more drugs and a radio-frequency detector capable of detecting body wires.
Defense attorney Brian G. Thompson said after the hearing thatIshmael's actions stemmed from "a very significant drug problem." He saidIshmael went to rehab and is "taking full responsibility for his actions."
"He's a very young man from a good family, who's never been in any trouble in his life," Thompson said.
The department's cadet program provides law-enforcement training for civilian employees between the ages of 18 and 21.
The evidence room holds between 180,000 and 200,000 pieces of evidence, according to police spokeswoman Elise Armacost. Under new security rules, she said, employees are now prohibited from taking bags into the room, and a supervisor must be present for someone to gain access to the vaults containing drugs and guns.
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Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger said his office has been giving defense attorneys a memo from the Police Department's Internal Affairs Section describing the case.
Prosecutors say they dropped charges against at least one defendant because Ishmael had compromised evidence. The man, who was accused involved in a 2007 case, was serving time in Florida on drug charges.
"Every lawyer is being told what happens so that if they have issues, they can bring it to the court's attention," Shellenberger said.