Seven Baltimore police officers, all part of a vaunted unit tasked with getting illegal guns off the streets, were indicted today on federal racketeering charges.
According to the indictments, the police stole thousands of dollars by falsely claiming overtime, in addition to robbing drug dealers of money and drugs, advising a drug dealer on how to avoid law enforcement surveillance, and even in some cases selling drugs themselves.
The indictment charges the officers with robbing at least three working people of money they earned in legitimate jobs.
"They're 1930s-style gangsters," Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said at a press conference announcing the arrests. All the officers charged were suspended without pay.
One of the police detectives charged, Daniel Hersl, 47, became near-famous two years ago for arresting Baltimore rapper Young Moose on heroin charges based in part on a rap video by Moose.
The others charged are Det. Evodio Calles Hendrix, 32; Sgt. Wayne Earl Jenkins, 36; Det. Jemell Lamar Rayam, 36; Det. Marcus R. Taylor, 30; Det. Maurice K. Ward, 36; and Det. Momodu Bondeva Kenton Gondo, aka GMoney, aka Mike, 34.
All seven are charged in a racketeering indictment handed up by a grand jury on Feb. 23, and unsealed today. They are charged with falsifying time sheets in order to steal tens of thousands of dollars in overtime. Jenkins allegedly put in for overtime when he was on vacation in Myrtle Beach. Hendrix, Taylor, and Ward allegedly got paid for their assigned shifts while they were vacationing in the Dominican Republic. Jenkins' gross pay topped $168,000 last year and Hersl's $144,000. None of the alleged conspirators took home less than six figures for their police pay.
But they stole thousands more from drug dealers, the indictment alleges.
By "setting up" drug buyers and dealers, the officers were able to rob criminals and sometimes seize guns, the indictment alleges. For example, on June 24, 2016, Jenkins, Ward, and Hendrix served a search warrant on a suspect identified as M.M. After the SWAT team left, Jenkins allegedly asked M.M. how much money he had in the house, and M.M. told him he had money in a shoebox in his bedroom. The three cops then "stole approximately $2,000 from the shoe box that contained $10,000," the indictment says. "They also stole $15,000 from a boot in the bedroom that also contained approximately 50 grams of heroin but left the heroin."
In another incident, Jenkins allegedly impersonated a federal investigator and, with Gondo, Rayam, and Hersl, stole a heat-sealed bundle of $100 bills totaling $20,000 from a used-car dealer and assisted living facility operator identified as R.H.
The cops later had a dispute about divvying up that money.
But they did not just rob obvious players. The police also robbed ordinary working citizens, according to the indictment.
On Aug. 24, 2016, Hersl, Gondo, and Rayam stopped a man on the street, identified in the indictment as J.B. They asked J.B. if he had a gun, and J.B. said no. Then they asked if he had any large sums of money. Again, no. Then they went into J.B.'s home and "stole $1,500 from J.B., which J.B. had earned as a maintenance supervisor at a nursing home," the indictment says. It was J.B.'s rent money.
Gondo was, himself, also a drug dealer, a second indictment alleges. Antonio Shropshire, Omari Thomas, Antoine Washington, Glenn Kyle Wells, and Gondo allegedly sold heroin in and around the Alameda Shopping Center, this indictment says. And Gondo helped his fellow crew members elude the DEA.
On March 31, 2016, Shropshire called Gondo at about 5 p.m. and told him he'd found a GPS tracker on his car, which the DEA had placed there. "I took the car to the shop," Shropshire told Gondo. "And, uh, the thing was, the thing was lit."
He asked the detective what to do, and the pair ended up continuing the conversation by FaceTime video conference, which the indictment says enabled them to avoid the wire tap.
After the video chat, Gondo called Shropshire back and told him to "get rid of" the tracking device. Shropshire stuck it to another car.
In a May 7, 2016 phone call to a woman the indictment identifies only by the initials N.F., Gondo tells her: "I sell drugs. That's what I did today." The woman didn’t believe him, so he says: "I'm tellin' you what I did. Bookie. I don't wanna lie to you. Why would I lie to you for?" At the time, the indictment says, Gondo had $10,000 cash in his pocket.
The officers turned off their body cameras, coached one another on what to say to internal affairs investigators, planned robberies and, eventually, heard rumors they were under federal investigation. "What case?" Gondo said, according to the indictment. "It's no Pablo Escobar. It's POLICE."
At the press conference, officials emphasized that the charged officers are but a small part of the 2,500-member BPD, and that other officers helped bring them down. "The majority of city police officers are going to be really pleased," U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein said.
Davis said he spoke with cops who "were relieved to know that these officers no longer walk among them."
One former cop who knows Hersl said he was not surprised to hear he'd been indicted. "I'm surprised he made it this long," the former officer said.
"It's becoming more difficult to defend this damn place," another BPD officer told City Paper.
Before the indictments, the Gun Task Force had been featured as a bright spot in the department. Last fall several members were pictured on the BPD newsletter over a story lauding their work.
The BPD seized 1,898 guns in 2015, the Sun reported last October, but many of the charges were dropped or pled-out to short time.
In January, Davis pledged to take a multi-pronged approach to crime, but still focused on "trigger-pullers."
"The reform that's happened in the past two years is unprecedented," Davis said at the press conference. "And I stand by that."
Peter Moskos, an associate professor at the Department of Law, Police Science, and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College, who served 20 months as a Baltimore Police Officer, says the specialized units often draw the police officers who are most gung-ho or violent, and "the specialized units end up in scandal."
Moskos says a lot of officers will know when a fellow cop is the type who likes to beat suspects or cut corners, and they just won't want to work with them. But they can't turn them in to Internal Affairs based on a bad feeling.
"I'm supposed to call up IAD and say, 'He makes my Spidey sense tingle'?"
The police on these squads are often the ones who make the most arrests. "The more you work, the wider your lane gets," says a BPD officer who asked his name not be used because he is not permitted to talk to the press. "This is as much as a command issue as it is them."
Moskos agrees. "No one in the department is willing to say, you know, the buck stops here…because no one's gonna get credit for stopping the bad cop. No good is coming of it.
"So you put on blinders," he says. "Cops want bad cops to get caught. They just don't want to have to be the one to catch them."