The 39-member Cambridge Police Department is under investigation by Maryland State Police after allegations that the Eastern Shore town's sworn officers have been heavily involved in a popular but illegal pyramid game.
Chief Russell Wroton requested the independent inquiry last month in a letter to state police Superintendent Larry W. Tolliver.
The investigation, by the state police Internal Affairs Unit in Pikesville, is separate from other probes of pyramid games in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.
Other police agencies in Maryland and elsewhere have fallen under suspicion since the "Friends Helping Friends" version of the game appeared in Maryland in early autumn.
In that version of the game, players put up $1,500 each and must recruit eight other players in order to receive a $12,000 payout.
Pyramid schemes are illegal in Maryland and most other states. While they're not specifically prohibited in Washington, consumer officials there have been cracking down on the games in recent weeks under the district's general fraud laws.
Lt. Steven McCollister of the Cambridge Police said Wednesday that allegations of fellow officers' involvement in the pyramid game were raised in October and early November.
"The chief felt there might be some [officers] involved so he decided an independent investigation was necessary," Lieutenant McCollister said.
"We don't know how many people might be implicated, but everybody down here is anxious to put the matter behind us," he said. He added that state police investigators have not yet started questioning Cambridge officers.
Michael McKelvin, a State Police spokesman, said Wednesday that Superintendent Tolliver received Chief Wroton's Nov. 7 letter, which "asked us to look into officers down there being involved in the scheme."
He could not estimate when the inquiry will be concluded.
As in most police internal investigations, a polygraph will be used in questioning the Cambridge officers, he said.
Mr. McKelvin said there are no investigations of state police involvement in the pyramid game.
Elsewhere, the Baltimore County Police Department is conducting an internal probe of reports that busloads of its sworn officers went to Washington, D.C., to attend pryamid investment or payoff meetings.
Harford County Sheriff Department deputies have been warned by their superiors of the scheme's illegality, and Pennsylvania authorities uncovered a small-town police chief involved near Phildelphia.
The largest investigation in Maryland is being conducted by the state attorney general's office, which has issued more than 30 subpoenas to alleged violators in Baltimore County, Annapolis, the Eastern Shore and Washington suburbs. Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. said his investigators are seeking testimony or documentary evidence in a civil proceeding that does not require a grand jury.
In addition to violating the Maryland law that specifically prohibits pyramid schemes, authorities said organizers could be violating the state's Securities Act, which prohibits the sale of unregistered securities through misrepresentation or fraud. Penalties include fines of up to $5,000 for each violation.
The once wildly popular pyramid game has now started to unwind in the region, according to enforcement officials and players. The reasons for the decline are the multistate crackdown on the game and fear of being caught in any of the investigations.