Trooper pleads guilty to misconduct in office He couldn't account for pounds of marijuana

November 04, 1997|By Dan Morse | Dan Morse,SUN STAFF

The investigation into state Trooper John M. Hurley began 19 months ago when a prison inmate found a marijuana pipe while picking through recycled cardboard at an Anne Arundel County garbage dump.

It ended yesterday when the decorated officer -- a one-time nominee for The Sun's law enforcement officer of the year award -- couldn't account for 166 pounds of marijuana he was entrusted to store in six drug cases dating to 1995.

Hurley pleaded guilty to misconduct in office and could be sentenced to 18 months in jail under the terms of a proposed plea agreement, according to his attorney.

Prosecutors originally targeted Hurley on theft charges, but in the end said they did not know the fate of the marijuana, which had a street value of as much as $332,000. Hurley has told investigators that more than half was stolen or thrown in the garbage.

"He didn't tell us that he sold it. He didn't tell us he smoked it," said Assistant Attorney General Carolyn Henneman. "What he came up with were excuses."

Hurley, 36, of Pasadena said 40 pounds of marijuana were stolen from the back of his car, a theft he never reported. He said he threw out another 52 pounds because of procedural disagreements with other law enforcement officers, according to Hurley's attorney.

The pipe was eventually tied to 35 pounds of seized marijuana -- 28 pounds of which Hurley tried to use as evidence in another case.

Hurley, suspended and apparently awaiting an administrative hearing, had worked for a federal-state drug task force. He was often responsible for drugs that were seized in state and federal cases destined for storage in the Maryland State Police property room in Columbia.

Of the marijuana in question, prosecutors said some of it never made it to the property room and 35 pounds of it were checked out by Hurley. Because of his actions, prosecutors had to drop one case involving 40 pounds of marijuana.

"He embezzled these drugs," said Henneman as she acknowledged she did not know where they went. "They were supposed to go to the property room and they didn't."

For Hurley, yesterday's plea agreement in Howard County Circuit Court represents a fall from the top of his class.

He finished first in the trooper academy in 1988, according to prosecutors. Hurley's father, John E. Hurley of East Berlin, Pa., said yesterday his son set a record for the highest graduation score.

The younger Hurley is managing a pawnshop, said his attorney Richard Finci.

"This is quite a fall from grace for him," Finci said. "He loved his job. He's devastated about what he's done to himself."

But Finci said his client never sold drugs nor had he shown signs of new wealth.

Henneman, the lead prosecutor in the case, declined to discuss the details of the investigation, and said she was pleased with the plea agreement.

Howard County Circuit Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr. is scheduled to sentence Hurley on Dec. 9. Henneman said she will recommend a five-year sentence, with 18 months in jail -- the maximum amount in the proposed agreement, according to Finci.

Where the drugs ended up remains a mystery.

Here are highlights of the investigation, documented in a statement of facts outlining the case.

An evidence label found with a marijuana pipe at the Millersville landfill March 7, 1996, was traced to 35 pounds of marijuana seized by Hurley.

Hurley had removed these drugs from the Columbia storage room, saying they were "for prosecution" in a Drug Enforcement Administration case, though no active case was connected with them.

On Jan. 2, 1996, Hurley arrested two drug suspects at Baltimore-Washington International Airport and seized 40 pounds of marijuana. Hurley never turned that seizure in and later claimed it was stolen though he never reported the theft.

On four other occasions, Hurley could not account for all the drugs intercepted by U.S. postal inspectors and routinely turned over to state officers such as Hurley for destruction.

Hurley said he threw out 52 pounds of the postal-intercepted drugs. He blamed discrepancies between other amounts handed over by postal inspectors and that checked in to the storage room on incorrect postal measurements and the marijuana's "drying out."

Pub Date: 11/04/97

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