This story was first published at Talk Media News. It is reprinted with permission.
Seven Baltimore police officers have been hit with federal racketeering charges for allegedly stealing money from civilians and embezzling money from the department.
One officer also is charged with dealing drugs and tipping off drug suspects.
U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein announced the indictment Wednesday at a news conference in Baltimore, where he was joined by Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis. The indictment comes after an investigation that lasted about a year, Rosenstein said, and included surveillance of the officers.
The detectives were on the police department’s Gun Trace Task Force in 2015 and 2016.
The alleged crimes include shaking down civilians as well as filing false court paperwork and fraudulent overtime forms.
The detectives are accused of stealing money in amounts ranging from $200 to $200,000.
Five of the officers stopped a man leaving a storage facility, lied that they had a search warrant, and then stole $2,000 hidden in a sock containing $4,800, according to the indictment.
In another instance, four of the detectives arrested a man during a traffic stop and confiscated drugs and $21,500, but turned in only $15,000 as evidence, the indictment said. The officers then went to the suspect’s home and stole $200,000 along with a $4,000 wristwatch from a safe deposit box.
Rosenstein said the officers were “involved in a pernicious conspiracy scheme” that “tarnishes the reputation of all police officers.”
“These defendants were allegedly involved in stopping people who had not committed crimes, and not only seizing money but pocketing it,” he said. “These are really robberies by people wearing police uniforms.”
One officer filed for overtime for five days when he was on vacation, the indictment alleges, while another detective put in for overtime when he was actually at a casino in the suburbs.
The alleged crimes took place last year, when the Baltimore Police Department was under scrutiny by the U.S. Justice Department for widespread civil rights violations.
Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said the officers’ crimes “erode trust with our community.” He said that “reform isn’t always a pretty thing to watch unfold,” but vowed that it would continue “in our journey toward a police department our city deserves.”
The police department said the officers are suspended without pay.
The Justice Department released a scathing report last August that found the police department routinely violated individuals’ constitutional rights. In January, the Justice Department and Baltimore officials reached a consent decree agreement outlining sweeping reforms to the department. The agreement is pending in U.S. District Court, awaiting a judge’s approval.
The Baltimore Police Department has had a troubled past. The Justice Department investigation was prompted after 25-year-old Freddie Gray died of a spinal injury in a hospital in April 2015 – a week after Baltimore police arrested him. Six officers were charged in his death. Three were tried and acquitted before the charges were dropped against the three other officers. Nearly a decade ago, overtime at the department came into question following an investigation by the Baltimore Examiner newspaper.
Feature photo above: Five of the seven Baltimore police detectives charged are pictured in an October 2016 departmental newsletter.