On Wednesday morning, 15 Baltimore police officers were ordered to report to its training academy for a routine equipment check. After they arrived, they were confronted by police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld and FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard McFeely, who took their badges before arresting them.
The 15 officers, and two others who were on vacation, were charged in an extortion scheme in which they were paid a $300 kickback each for vehicles involved in accidents, that the police officers arranged to have towed to an Rosedale repair shop. One of the officers received a total of $14,400 over a two-year period.
The towing company and repair shop, Majjestic Auto Repair, owned by brothers Edwin Javier Mejia, 27, and Hernan Alexis Moreno Mejia, 30, recruited police officers beginning in January 2009 who would call the shop from an accident scene to arrange towing, repairs and car rentals.
Some of the cars towed by the shop were not disabled, but police officers convinced owners that Majestic should tow the cars, presumably to collect additional monies from insurance companies.
“The criminal complaint alleges that the officers were secretly working for a private auto repair business when they were supposed to be working for the police department and the citizens of Baltimore,” said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein in a statement. “Police officers cross a bright line when they take payments from private citizens in connection with their official duties.”
The police officers charged in the scheme included Eddy Arias, age 39, of Catonsville; Eric Ivan Ayala Olivera, age 35, of Edgewood; Rodney Cintron, age 31, of Middle River; Jhonn S. Corona, age 32, of Rosedale; Michael Lee Cross, age 28, of Reisterstown; Jerry Edward Diggs, Jr., age 24, of Baltimore; Rafael Concepcion Feliciano Jr., age 30, of Baltimore; Jaime Luis Lugo Rivera, age 35, of Aberdeen; Kelvin Quade Manrich, age 41, of Gwynn Oak; Luis Nunez, age 33, of Baltimore; Samuel Ocasio, age 35, of Edgewood; David Reeping, age 41, of Baltimore; Jermaine Rice, age 28, of Owings Mills; Leonel Rodriguez Torres, age 31, of Edgewood; Marcos Fernando Urena, age 33, of Baltimore; Osvaldo Valentine, age 38, of Edgewood; and Henry Yambo, age 28, of Reisterstown.
The FBI said the investigation began within the police department and involved the use of wiretaps and electronic surveillance.
All the officers were suspended without pay, and could face up to 20 years behind bars.
Baltimore’s mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake released a statement which read “I expect all City employees to serve the public with the highest level of integrity, and I will not tolerate criminal or unethical activity by any city employee. I appreciate the efforts of Commissioner Bealefeld and our federal partners for working closely together to investigate, arrest, and prosecute these individuals. Any criminal activity by a Baltimore police officer dishonors our city and the 3,000 men and women of the Baltimore Police Department who serve with great professionalism and integrity.”
Read the court documents here.