Baltimore Police Detective Momodu Gondo on Thursday became the fourth city officer to admit to robbing and extorting citizens, billing for overtime hours he didn’t work and falsifying reports to conceal his crimes — all part of a growing scandal that has ensnared eight officers and toppled the city’s elite gun unit.
Unlike the three officers before him, Gondo, 34, also pleaded guilty to helping protect a North Baltimore heroin ring, one that police said was responsible for more than 60 fatal and nonfatal overdoses. With his guilty pleas to both racketeering and drug conspiracy, Gondo faces as much as 40 years in prison — the longest maximum penalty of the eight indicted officers.
With a thick beard and wearing the bright orange jumpsuit of a detention center, Gondo listened as U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake read the accusations against him. In the racketeering case, he was accused of committing eight robberies from March 2015 to July 2016.
“Do you agree that these facts are correct,” Blake asked.
Showing no emotion, Gondo, of Owings Mills, answered the judge firmly: “Yes, your honor.”
In the drug trafficking case, he was accused of conspiring to sell at least 100 grams of heroin and sharing police whereabouts with the drug dealers to help them evade arrest.
“You do agree that you’re guilty of these two offenses?” the judge asked.
“That’s correct, your honor,” he said.
Gondo said little more before U.S. marshals led him from the Baltimore courtroom in handcuffs.
Outside, his attorney, Warren Brown, said Baltimore police officers are paid a “paltry sum” considering the risks of their work.
Gondo admitted to routinely cheating on his overtime pay. He earned a salary of about $71,400 during fiscal year 2016, but also received nearly $30,000 in overtime.
Brown said such meager salaries push police to commit robberies.
“These guys in this Gun Trace Task Force, who are out there every day putting their lives on the line, they’re down in the dirt to be successful,” Brown said. “Sometimes that mindset rubs off and carries into areas it probably shouldn’t.”
The Baltimore Police Department declined to comment on Gondo’s guilty plea Thursday.
Gondo and the other indicted officers were members of the Gun Trace Task Force, an elite plainclothes unit deployed to interrupt Baltimore’s illegal gun trade. The scandal involving the task force led Police Commissioner Kevin Davis earlier this year to end plainclothes policing in Baltimore, saying the style encouraged officers to cut corners. He also disbanded the gun unit.
Prosecutors say they have been forced to drop criminal charges against more than 100 people whose cases hinged on the word of the eight officers.
Detective Jemell Rayam pleaded guilty Tuesday to racketeering. Detectives Evodio Hendrix and Maurice Ward both pleaded guilty in July. The three men and Gondo await sentencing next year.
Federal prosecutors, meanwhile, are pressing forward with criminal cases against Sgts. Thomas Allers and Wayne Jenkins and Detectives Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor. The four men have pleaded not guilty. Their trials are scheduled to begin in January.
The drug case, in which Gondo also pleaded guilty, begins Monday in federal court. Five civilians from Baltimore are charged with running the heroin ring that reached as far as Baltimore and Harford counties.
By pleading guilty to racketeering, Gondo and three other officers admitted to robbing civilians during traffic stops, even driving to the homes of those in custody to take more cash — a routine practice they discussed casually as “taxing” suspects.
While searching a bedroom in March 2015, Gondo uncovered a stash of money and pocketed at least $8,000. He admitted to the crime with his guilty plea.
Four months later, he robbed another home, taking an unknown amount of cash, then went to Mother's Federal Hill Grille to divide the money with other officers from his unit, Gondo admitted Thursday.
In February 2016, he searched a woman’s bedroom alongside other officers, put her in handcuffs and robbed her of $7,000. Gondo, Rayam and Allers split the cash afterward, according to his plea.
Gondo also admitted to stopping a car four months later in Dickeyville, traveling with Rayam and Jenkins to the driver’s home and stealing a 9 mm handgun and a pound of marijuana. Gondo arranged for a drug dealer he knew to buy the gun and marijuana, splitting the money with Rayam, he admitted.
Through it all, Gondo was able to escape detection from internal police investigators. He admitted to coaching his fellow officers to lie to investigators and turn off their body cameras.
He also pulled over Ronald and Nancy Hamilton from Carroll County in July 2016. Ronald Hamilton has twice served federal prison sentences for drug convictions. Rayam asked him, “Where’s the money?” He had $3,400 in cash, which Rayam stole.
Next, the officers drove to the couple’s home and stole $20,000 in cash from the closet. They went to a bar and split the money, Gondo admitted with his plea.
Nancy Hamilton has sued the officers in Baltimore Circuit Court for $900,000. Other victims say they’ve hired lawyers, too. Several other lawsuits already have been filed against members of the Gun Trace Task Force, said Andre Davis, the Baltimore solicitor.
City officials, he said, are bracing for many more.