Three days into his trial, a former Baltimore and Philadelphia police officer changed course and pleaded guilty to charges that he conspired to sell drugs with corrupt members of the Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force.
The defense attorney for Eric Snell, 34, said his client felt the weight of the government’s evidence against him, which included testimony from a convicted Baltimore police officer who told jurors how he funneled stolen cocaine and heroin to Snell to be sold on the streets of Philadelphia. Federal prosecutors had text messages and cell phone location data to back up the testimony.
Snell “came to the realization yesterday that completing this process was probably futile, and to take the plea was the right thing to do, so he would have closure as well as his family,” his attorney, David Solomon, told reporters afterward.
Snell’s conviction brings the number of people convicted in the Gun Trace Task Force police corruption case to 12, eight of whom worked together in the elite gun squad. That number does not include a crew of drug dealers affiliated with one of the officers, which served as the entry point into the police misconduct case for investigators. Those men were convicted as well.
Snell faces a maximum of 20 years in prison at sentencing on Jan. 30.
At Snell’s trial, prosecutors called cooperating defendants Momodu Gondo and Jemell Rayam, who were longtime partners and have admitted stealing money from people for nearly a decade.
Rayam, who met Snell in the Baltimore police academy in 2005 and was the best man at his wedding, testified that he twice provided drugs to Snell that police had taken off the streets. Snell arranged to sell the drugs in Philadelphia, where relatives operated a “full service” drug shop, Assistant U.S. Attorney Derek Hines told jurors.
“It was 100 percent pure profit,” Hines said.
Their testimony unfurled new claims and additional details about some of the Gun Trace Task Force officers’ conduct. Gondo testified that Rayam took a confidential informant’s tip that an apartment building owner had $200,000 cash, and found associates to dress up as mailmen and break in to loot the owner’s residence.
Rayam also revealed that he once visited the home of his supervisor, Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, where Jenkins had an assortment of drugs. Rayam was given raw heroin to deliver to Snell, with the officers hoping to get back $14,000, but Rayam said he struggled to recoup funds to give Jenkins his promised cut. Text messages from Rayam’s phone showed Jenkins hounding Rayam to meet up.
“Was it worth it?” Hines asked Rayam.
“No,” Rayam said.
Gondo said stealing was rampant in his plainclothes unit in 2008, part of the “culture” that let the officers build trust in one another.
Solomon said he believed Snell could have prevailed at trial if the case had hinged only on the testimony of Gondo and Rayam, whom he had called untrustworthy. But he said the government’s additional evidence, such as text messages between Rayam and Snell that show them using coded language, was insurmountable.
“Text messages can’t be cross-examined,” he said.
While six of the eight convicted Baltimore officers have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from seven to 25 years, Gondo and Rayam have yet to be sentenced.
Prosecutors have said their investigation into police corruption was continuing — the convicted officers have named others who stole money with them, although some of those allegations are several years old.
“To the extent that there’s facts and evidence that suggest there’s other misconduct … we will not rest, and follow the facts wherever they might lead,” U.S. Attorney for Maryland Robert Hur said after the guilty plea.
Some of the officers named continue to work for the police department.
Interim Baltimore Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle would only say that the department’s investigations were “ongoing.” Police have declined to provide any insight into those investigations, citing personnel policies. Tuggle noted that police have instituted a polygraph procedure for officers who work in certain units.
A legislative commission appointed by state government leaders has begun an independent review of the circumstances surrounding the Gun Trace Task Force and the department’s culture. It will hold public hearings and release a public report.
Tuggle attended a portion of Rayam’s testimony this week, wearing his police uniform and sitting in the front row, and was present for Snell’s guilty plea.
“I’m here to represent the good men and women of the police department,” he said.