The Baltimore Police Department's elite gun-crime unit had a busy year in 2016. Court records show the seven officers were involved in hundreds of criminal cases.
But federal prosecutors said Wednesday that the members of the Gun Trace Task Force were also busy conducting their own criminal enterprise: stealing cash from innocent people and suspects alike, and bilking taxpayers by filing fraudulent overtime claims.
A grand jury indicted the officers on federal racketeering charges, prosecutors said Wednesday. They have been taken into custody pending court appearances.
Now many of the felony gun cases the officers helped build might be in legal jeopardy, threatening the progress police commanders have claimed against illegal weapons during a historic spike in violent crime.
"Today's federal indictment of several BPD officers will have pervasive implications on numerous active investigations and pending cases in our office," Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby said in a statement.
Veteran defense attorney Gerard P. Martin predicted "a mess at the state's attorney's office."
"They're going to have to review every case these officers were involved in," he said.
Others cautioned against rushing to judgment against the officers, and said many cases with other evidence beyond their testimony will not unravel.
But the impact was immediately visible on Wednesday, as Mosby's office dropped a case that involved some of the officers.
Maurice Stanton, 28, was arrested on three gun charges last August.
An assistant state's attorney was discussing a plea deal for Stanton in Circuit Court on Wednesday when she received a text message about the indictments, Baltimore Deputy Public Defender Natalie Finegar said.
The judge declared a recess, and prosecutors dropped the case.
Mosby said her "office will continue to thoroughly assess the impact this will have on open and pending cases."
Finegar said her office was moving quickly to review cases involving the officers.
"I'm going to go over these indictments with every one of our clients with a fine-toothed comb, and it could very well mean that those cases end up dismissed," Finegar said. "The majority of our felony gun cases are coming from this squad. This calls some serious questions into those arrests.
"If you can't rely on those officers' credibility, and you can't call those officers as witnesses, then what are you going to rely on for evidence?"
The officers were identified as Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, 36, and Detectives Momodu Gondo, 34; Evodio Hendrix, 32; Daniel Hersl, 47; Jemell Rayam, 36; Marcus Taylor, 30; and Maurice Ward, 36.
They are accused of shaking down citizens, filing false court paperwork and making fraudulent overtime claims, all while Justice Department investigators were scrutinizing the department for what they concluded was widespread civil rights violations.
Gondo was also accused in a separate indictment of participating in an illegal drug organization and tipping its members off to investigations.
Former Baltimore police Officer Gene Whissel, president of the Maryland Criminal Defense Attorneys Association, predicted Mosby's office would dismiss cases stemming from actions connected to the federal charges and which "rely solely on the testimony" of the indicted officers.
Cases that involve evidence other than the officers' testimony would likely continue, he said, but will be tough to win.
"Any defense attorney who sees these [officers'] names pop up in any cases they have will be looking closely to see if there is any connection to their alleged misconduct," Whissel said. "The state's attorney's office may do some type of sweeping decision to eliminate them as witnesses."
He said the officers deserve fair treatment in court and in the media.
"They are presumed innocent. This is just an allegation," he said. "We've seen charges rushed and public opinion rushed" in other cases.
"There is a lot to prove."
Defense attorney William H. "Billy" Murphy said he sees little hope for any of the cases involving the officers.
"All cases depending on these officers' credibility to obtain convictions have been ruined," Murphy said.
He said he trusts that Commissioner Kevin Davis will be able to continue to enact reforms in the Police Department.
Murphy said the indictments reflect "multiple breakdowns in the criminal justice system in Baltimore City, including officers with multiple unaddressed citizen complaints, public defenders with multiple, unaddressed complaints about false testimony, a continued failure to monitor police overtime, and an abuse of affidavits that appear to have been prepared falsely."
"This is a bad day for good cops," he said. "Because there is nothing more a good cop hates than a bad cop."
Baltimore Sun reporter Kevin Rector contributed to this article.