Trooper denies sex allegation

May 05, 1994|By Scott Higham | Scott Higham,Sun Staff Writer

State police Sgt. Warren Rineker admitted sharing a hotel room with a woman married to the owner of a Block bar he had been investigating but swore he didn't have sex with her, according to court testimony released yesterday.

In his first public comments about the incident, Sergeant Rineker said he and the woman were friends, nothing more. He said the couple checked into the Susse Chalet hotel in Rosedale in February because the roads had become impassable during an ice storm.

"I offered she could share the room because of the road conditions," the sergeant testified in Baltimore County Circuit Court. "When we got to the hotel, I sat on the chair and she laid on the bed. And that's what we did."

The woman's husband, Paul Battaglia, who owns the Harem, filed for divorce after finding the couple in the hotel. He said in divorce papers that Sergeant Rineker, a 22-year veteran of the force, committed adultery with his wife, Mahala.

Sergeant Rineker and two other undercover troopers assigned to the probe of The Block are under investigation themselves -- the sergeant for the hotel incident, the others because of claims that they paid a dancer at a Block bar for sex.

Those internal investigations followed a Jan. 14 raid by 500 troopers of The Block, a string of nude dance bars on East Baltimore Street.

None of the officers being investigated has spoken publicly about the internal investigations, but Sergeant Rineker was subpoenaed as a witness in the Battaglia divorce case.

He said he met Mahala Battaglia last year while he was an undercover drug officer on The Block, according to a transcript of testimony in the divorce case. At the time, she was a bartender at the Harem on Custom House Avenue and thought he was a customer named "Rick."

Neither of the Battaglias was charged after the investigation. After the Jan. 14 state police raid, Sergeant Rineker said, he told Mrs. Battaglia he was an undercover officer.

"Do you make it a common practice to contact those who you were investigating after your cover is blown?" asked A. Jai Bonner, an attorney handling Mr. Battaglia's divorce.

"There are times that we, yeah, that we contact people for information," the sergeant said.

On the evening of Feb. 12, he said, Mrs. Battaglia invited him to a comedy show in Baltimore with one of her friends, a Harem dancer. After the show, he said, he followed the women to the dancer's Rosedale home because of the storm. The dancer went inside.

He said he asked Mrs. Battaglia whether she wanted to share a hotel room. When Ms. Bonner asked him, "Where did you intend on sleeping?" he said, he replied, "Somewhere other than the bed."

About 5:30 the next morning, the two left the room. Mr. Battaglia, who had tracked the couple to the hotel, confronted them in the lobby.

"He said to me, you know, I was sleeping with his wife," the sergeant testified. "I said, 'You know, if you got a problem, you know, talk to her about it.' "

Near the end of the hearing, Judge J. William Hinkel said he was losing patience with the sergeant. At the time, Ms. Bonner was trying to ask Sergeant Rineker why he gave Mrs. Battaglia his phone number while he was at the Ramada Inn in Annapolis on Nov. 15.

"Do you regularly give your hotel phone numbers to the wives of the people you are investigating?" Ms. Bonner asked.

"To the wives?" the sergeant asked.

"Now look, I want straight answers from you," the judge said.

Ms. Bonner asked again, "Is that a common practice?"

"Yes," Sergeant Rineker said.

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