Mayor hints at link to officers

FBI `very involved' in investigation of police office thefts

Corruption cases affected

January 05, 2001|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Detectives investigating last month's burglary at a secret Baltimore police Internal Affairs office believe there is a "real possibility" that fellow officers are involved, Mayor Martin O'Malley said yesterday.

He also said for the first time that the FBI "is very involved" in the investigation. An FBI spokesman said its agency escalated its role this week.

O'Malley's comments are the strongest to date by a public official indicating a possible linking of the Christmas Eve break-in and apparent theft of files to police officers who might be trying to thwart corruption cases.

"One of the toughest sorts of crimes to police are crimes committed by people who are perpetrators and wearing police uniforms," O'Malley said during his weekly news conference.

The burglary struck at the heart of the department's most secret office, the Integrity Unit in Essex, from which detectives set up sting operations and surveillance in attempts to catch officers on the take or involved in other illicit activities.

"I think that the fact someone went through the trouble of breaking into that office shows you just how effective a job our new [Internal Affairs Division] is doing," O'Malley said.

Police officials declined to comment yesterday. Details about the theft have been scant; the only public statements have confirmed that a burglary occurred. Officials have declined to say what was taken, how entry was gained and where the office is located.

The burglary was reported about 3:30 p.m. Dec. 24. Police sources have said files were rifled, computers destroyed and the office ransacked.

That same day, Jim Isbell, 38, found two bags of Baltimore police files, surveillance tapes and photos and a Rolodex in a trash bin behind a doughnut shop on Eastern Avenue in Baltimore County.

He called 911 and later said he was interviewed at length by an FBI agent and other investigators. Police sources have confirmed his account.

Sources have said six sensitive files detailing police corruption were either stolen or rifled, including one involving Officer Brian L. Sewell, who is charged with falsely arresting a man on a drug charge and whose trial is pending.

Top police commanders are worried that his case and others might be compromised by the burglary. Sewell's arrest, by detectives running a sting operation, was highlighted by Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris as proof that he is serious about targeting corruption.

Police said that no suspects have been identified in the break-in, but that an inside job is possible because of the items targeted.

"I know that they are looking at all possibilities," O'Malley said.

Asked how convinced he was that the burglary was an inside job, the mayor said, "I don't know enough about the facts to make that conclusion, but ... they are looking at that as a real possibility."

The FBI would not detail its role in the investigation, but the federal law enforcement agency routinely looks into corruption at local levels.

Norris and O'Malley established the Integrity Unit as part of Internal Affairs and invited FBI agents to assist in undercover stings. Federal agents worked out of the secret office, a white house surrounded by a chain-link fence.

Until this week, the FBI had been monitoring the Baltimore police investigation, which is being run by the homicide unit because of its sensitive nature.

But Special Agent Peter A. Gulotta Jr., a spokesman for Baltimore's FBI office, said his agency is now "significantly involved" in the case. He declined to comment further.

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