Officers not charged after federal probe

2-year investigation of moonlighting ends for city, county police

February 09, 2002|By Del Quentin Wilber and Gerard Shields | Del Quentin Wilber and Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Prosecutors have declined to file criminal charges after a two-year federal investigation into police moonlighting practices in Baltimore and Baltimore County, though officers still could be disciplined internally, officials said yesterday.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris and union officials said they are glad the federal investigation of about 40 city officers and several county officers is over.

"I'm happy that it's come to some kind of resolution," Norris said.

Norris learned of the prosecutors' decision in a phone call from U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio on Monday, he said. DiBiagio did not say why his attorneys closed the case, Norris said.

Officials at the U.S. attorney's office declined to comment; FBI spokesman Peter A. Gulotta Jr. confirmed that prosecutors declined to press charges, but he refused to comment further.

The federal investigation had been conducted for about two years. It focused on officers who worked as off-duty security guards at Staples office-supply stores in the Baltimore area and in Washington, according to sources familiar with the investigation.

FBI agents were looking into whether the officers were paid for work they never did and whether they worked for Staples while on duty, sources said. City police said they turned over employee records, including time sheets, to FBI officials.

Union officials have long criticized the pace of the federal investigation. Officer Gary McLhinney, president of the city police union, called it a "colossal waste of time" yesterday.

"The U.S. attorney did the right thing," said McLhinney, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 3. "It's something that I'm sure police Commissioner Norris will handle appropriately."

FBI officials have promised to open their files to police internal affairs investigators, Norris said, but did not give any clues about what they discovered during their probe.

"We don't know what they have," he said.

DiBiagio's decision was a surprise, said Norris, who was told by prosecutors last summer that he should expect indictments in coming weeks. On Sept. 6, about 50 FBI agents fanned across the area, questioning officers at their homes and work.

Part of the investigation focused on whether a Staples employee took more than $200,000 from the store and used it to pay police officers in cash, sources said.

Several officers under investigation have told The Sun that they did not take money from the employee and that they had been paid with checks for legitimate off-duty work.

Four county officers were suspended with pay for three weeks in September after FBI agents alerted county police officials to the investigation. County police officials reinstated those officers two weeks after the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, saying it looked as though the Staples investigation would take much longer to finish than expected.

A fifth county officer was reinstated after being suspended for one day; a review board determined that there was not enough evidence against the detective.

Cole Weston, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 4, which represents county officers, remained critical of Baltimore County Police Chief Terrence B. Sheridan's initial decision to suspend the officers.

"I was frustrated with the way it was handled from the beginning," Weston said.

County police officials declined to comment yesterday.

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