City officer is indicted on federal drug charges

U.S. also confirms probe of Norris' expense account

April 11, 2003|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark apologized to the public yesterday after announcing the federal indictment of an intelligence officer on charges of drug dealing, saying the officer had "disgraced this department and hurt our trust with the people of this city."

Clark's forceful rebuke of indicted officer Eduardo Munoz Jr. came as Maryland's U.S. attorney acknowledged for the first time his office's investigation of a separate police matter - former Commissioner Edward T. Norris' use of an off-the-books expense account during his tenure.

U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio declined to comment in detail about the probe into the expense account used by Norris to finance trips, meals and gifts worth thousands of dollars. But DiBiagio - who has worked closely with Norris and has ties to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who appointed Norris head of the state police - said that whether such inquiries involve "friends or friends of friends, the people of Maryland deserve to have that looked into thoroughly."

In the case against Munoz, authorities said yesterday that a federal grand jury had handed up an eight-count indictment against the officer who joined the city Police Department in 2000 and worked as a Spanish-speaking interpreter in the criminal intelligence unit, helping keep tabs on drug gang activity and possible terror threats.

Munoz, 32, who was arrested March 31, is accused with co-defendant Jose Raul Estela of conspiracy to distribute cocaine in an operation that allegedly sold between 2 kilograms and 3 kilograms of cocaine a month from a Fells Point auto garage. Estela, 30, is not a police officer.

Clark said that Munoz had not compromised any investigations but that none of that made up for the alleged criminal activity.

Holding up Munoz's badge, the city's new police commissioner said the officer - suspended without pay - would never wear it again. He described Munoz as a "drug dealer and gun runner" who had infiltrated the city's police force and deserved to face the harsh penalties of the federal court system, where Munoz could receive a 55-year prison sentence if convicted.

"Fifty years isn't enough for this individual," Clark said. "If I could turn him loose for the cops this individual used to work with, the punishment would be far worse."

Munoz is being held in federal custody while he awaits trial. His attorney, Steven D. Silverman of Baltimore, said yesterday that Munoz has "adamantly maintained his innocence and looks forward to having a chance to review the evidence against him."

"Everyone is repulsed by police corruption," Silverman said, but he called Clark's remarks prejudicial and premature. Silverman said the case against Munoz appears to be built largely on the word of a convicted felon working with authorities to gain his own freedom: "It certainly smells of a setup here," Silverman said.

Clark, who has been generally soft-spoken publicly since he was tapped by Mayor Martin O'Malley to take over the city department after Norris' departure in January, vowed to "weed out" and "crush" any corrupt officers on the force.

He said he believed the vast majority of the city's police force are hard-working, honest officers. But he promised that he would use the resources of state and federal prosecutors to catch any rogue cops and was willing to arrest them, "in the middle of the night, in front of their families" if necessary.

Another city officer, Aleacia Hill, 25, was charged last month in Baltimore County with possessing drugs and obliterating the serial number on a handgun. She is under indictment in Baltimore Circuit Court on charges of drug conspiracy and misconduct in office.

About the separate probe of Norris, DiBiagio explained yesterday the decision to use an investigator from inside the U.S. attorney's office instead of involving an outside law enforcement agency such as the FBI. He noted that the Maryland U.S. attorney's office used its own independent investigators in the 1970s cases against then-Vice President Spiro T. Agnew and former Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel.

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