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Young Baltimore Police detective testifies that Gun Trace Task Force tried to recruit him to steal

Baltimore Police Detective James Kostoplis was new to the Gun Trace Task Force when his sergeant, Wayne Jenkins, asked him to go for a ride.

Kostoplis remembers Jenkins directing him to the back of his van on a side street and asking him what he thought about tracking high-value drug dealers — and taking their money for themselves.

“Excuse my language — I said no, that’s a terrible [expletive] idea,” Kostoplis, 27, testified Tuesday. “You can’t have a badge on your chest and do that.”

At the time, Kostoplis said, he thought Jenkins was testing whether he could be trusted around money. But a short time later Jenkins transferred Kostoplis out of the unit, and when the members of the unit were indicted on federal racketeering charges, Kostoplis realized Jenkins had different motives and he contacted the FBI.

“He was in fact asking me to steal money,” Kostoplis said.

The young detective was the federal government’s final witness as it rested its case Tuesday against Detectives Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor, who face racketeering conspiracy and robbery charges. The officers did not take the stand, and their defense attorneys rested their cases after calling a total of three witnesses.

Closing arguments are scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. Wednesday and are expected to last most of the day before jury deliberations begin.

Federal prosecutors Leo Wise and Derek Hines called 32 witnesses over eight days of testimony, including four of the six gun unit officers who have pleaded guilty in the case and outlined their roles in years-worth of crimes. Though the indictment covers incidents from 2014 to 2017, some of the officers admitted to crimes stretching back to 2008.

Though a dozen uncharged officers were named by the convicted officers in “proffer sessions” with the FBI and on the witness stand, including the department’s head of internal affairs, police have not suspended anyone as a result of the trial testimony. The agency did say this week it has created a special unit to investigate such claims, though it did not say whether its findings would be made public.

The agency’s difficulty with investigating itself has been on display in recent months. Many of the officers have been investigated over the years for various complaints, and during the federal investigation multiple leaks tipped the officers that they were being looked at. The officers who testified agreed with the characterization by Hersl’s defense attorney that Jenkins in particular was “untouchable,” a “golden boy” and a “prince” who was looked out for up the chain of command.

FBI Special Agent Erika Jensen testified Tuesday that investigators were even worried about contacting the Horseshoe Casino to get gambling records for some of the officers.

“We needed BPD liaisons [for that], and we were frankly afraid to give information to them,” Jensen testified.

Kostoplis, a slight man with a small mustache, took the stand wearing his full uniform. He testified that he had worked with Jenkins before, in the Northeastern District, and recalled under defense questioning that Jenkins once told him there were two rules: don’t steal money and don’t plant things. Jenkins has now pleaded guilty to being involved in doing both.

But Kostoplis said he never saw any questionable police work by Jenkins, and Kostoplis asked to join his squad in 2016. Jenkins accepted him into the unit in October 2016, but Jenkins then went on leave for the birth of his child. Kostoplis described the unit as dormant while Jenkins was gone, and actively discouraged by the department from doing police work.

Jenkins returned in January 2017, and, Kostoplis said, later that month Jenkins asked him to go for the ride and gauged his willingness to steal. He said Hersl came along for the ride as well. Jenkins asked everyone to leave their radios and cellphones inside his van, which other officers have testified was because he was paranoid about being recorded.

The FBI did install a recording device inside one of the unit’s vehicles, but it was the car assigned to Detective Momodu Gondo.

Kostoplis said he never contacted internal affairs about the interaction because he believed Jenkins was testing whether Kostoplis was ethical. He said Jenkins soon moved him out of the unit, saying the officers were going to be lying low while Jenkins sought a promotion. Kostoplis said he later saw the unit engaged in active street work.

In addition to robberies allegedly committed with the Gun Trace Task Force, Hersl is also charged with stealing money when he was in a special enforcement unit on the city’s east side. In those cases, men testified that Hersl was among a group of officers who arrested them, and that their money went missing.

No one testified that Hersl specifically took the money, and his defense called as its only witnesses two officers present during those arrests. Detective Timothy Romeo and former officer Peter Iacovo both testified that they did not know of any money stolen.

Hersl’s attorney, William Purpura, also asked Jensen, the FBI agent, if agents had recovered any large amounts of cash or drugs during searches of Hersl’s home and vehicles. Jensen said they did not, and did not see any suspicious bank activity in Hersl’s accounts. The officer had purchased a new home in mid-2016, and had a new truck he was making payments on.

Taylor’s defense attorneys called an FBI task force officer to ask about a time stamp on a single photo, taken from the camera roll of a bail bondsman who has pleaded guilty to conspiring with Jenkins to resell stolen drugs.

jfenton@baltsun.com

twitter.com/justin_fenton

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