|Wednesday, February 23, 2011 – Anne Kramer|
|Federal authorities arrested 17 police officers and the owners of a Rosedale auto repair shop in an extortion scheme.The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maryland says the officers allegedly would be on the scene of car accidents and direct the owners of the cars involved to have Majestic Auto Repair Shop tow their vehicle repair and they could handle the insurance claim.Prosecutors allege the officers would get $300 for each car they directed to Majestic.
The police officers have initial appearances scheduled for this afternoon.
Read more about the arrests from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
17 BALTIMORE POLICE OFFICERS AND THE OWNERS OF AN AUTO REPAIR SHOP CHARGED IN EXTORTION SCHEME
Auto Repair Shop Owners Allegedly Paid Police Officers to Steer Car Owners Involved in Accidents to the Repair Shop for Towing and Repairs
Baltimore, Maryland – A criminal complaint was filed today charging 17 Baltimore City Police officers and two brothers who own a car repair shop with conspiring to commit extortion in connection with a scheme in which the repair shop owners paid police officers to arrange for their company, rather than a city-authorized company, to tow vehicles from accident scenes and make repairs. More than 80 law enforcement officers executed the arrest warrants and two federal search warrants.
“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. “Police officers cross a bright line when they take payments from private citizens in connection with their official duties.”
“I will not tolerate any criminal activity that undermines the integrity of the Baltimore Police Department and the many sacrifices our officers make each and every day,” stated Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III. “And I thank our federal partners for their assistance in this investigation.”
“When police officers are engaged in illegal activity, it disengages the public trust and can’t be tolerated,” stated Special Agent in Charge Richard A. McFeely of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. “The FBI enjoys a close and productive relationship with the Baltimore Police Department and will continue to work with their dedicated members in rooting out criminal activity and corruption at all levels.”
The criminal complaint was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein, Special Agent in Charge Richard A. McFeely of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III.
The following defendants, all from Maryland, are charged in the conspiracy:
Hernan Alexis Moreno Mejia (Moreno), age 30, of Rosedale;
Moreno’s brother, Edwin Javier Mejia, age 27, of Middle River;
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 Baltimore Police Department requires that when police request vehicle towing services, they only use towing companies that are under contract with the City of Baltimore to provide towing services for the BPD.
Defendants Moreno and Mejia are brothers who own Majestic Auto Repair Shop LLC (Majestic), located in Rosedale, Maryland. Majestic provides towing and automobile repair services. Majestic is not an authorized tow company with the City of Baltimore. The remaining defendants are Baltimore Police Officers (BPD Officers).
According to the affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, the general pattern of the extortion scheme allegedly consisted of the following: from January 2009 to the present, the BPD Officers were either dispatched by the police department to the scene of an accident, or otherwise showed up at the scene. Shortly after arriving at the accident scene, the BPD Officer would call Moreno, or use the vehicle owner’s cell phone to call Moreno, and provide Moreno with details about the accident and the damage to the vehicle. The BPD Officer would then allegedly inform the vehicle owner that Majestic could tow the car, provide auto repair services, help with the insurance claim, assist in getting a rental car and waive the deductible. The BPD Officer allegedly would further direct the owner not to call the insurance company until after speaking with Moreno.
The affidavit further alleges that a Majestic truck, or a truck from another towing company used by Majestic, would then arrive at the scene and tow the vehicle to Majestic, even if the vehicle was not actually disabled. In some instances, the vehicle was driven to Majestic by Moreno or the owner. The complaint alleges that the BPD Officer would falsely state in his police report, if one was prepared, that the vehicle owners arranged for their own tow, or the BPD Officer would intentionally leave the box blank in the report as to towing or vehicle removal method. A claim was then submitted to the insurance company for payment for repairs allegedly made by Majestic to the towed vehicle. If the car stayed at Majestic, Moreno and the BPD Officer would later arrange to meet so that Moreno could pay the BPD Officer in cash or check for steering the car owner to use Majestic for tow and automobile repair services.
According to the affidavit, the defendant police officers received approximately $300 for each vehicle they steered to Majestic. According to the affidavit, during the two year scheme, officers received payments totaling from $300 to more than $14,400.
Each defendant faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for the extortion conspiracy. Initial appearances for the defendants are scheduled to begin this afternoon.
A criminal complaint is not a finding of guilt. An individual charged by criminal complaint is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty at some later criminal proceedings.
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein praised the FBI and the Baltimore Police Department for their work in the investigation. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant United States Attorneys Kathleen O. Gavin and Tonya Kelly Kowitz, who are prosecuting the case.