City police officer convicted on gambling charges

February 15, 2006|By JULIE BYKOWICZ | JULIE BYKOWICZ,SUN REPORTER

A Southwestern District police officer was convicted yesterday of illegal gambling and fined $150 for her involvement in a November poker game in Northeast Baltimore.

Officer Vicki Mengel, a nine-year veteran who most recently worked in the district's "flex squad," purchased $360 in poker chips and placed bets on poker hands Nov. 11 at a closed business in the 6700 block of Harford Road, the prosecutor said.

The game was broken up that morning because police had set up an internal affairs sting after receiving a tip that Mengel, 35, would be gambling there, a police spokesman has said.

Mengel's conviction on two misdemeanor charges came as prosecutors were preparing to arraign today three other members of the Southwestern District flex squad on charges of rape, conspiracy to commit rape and misconduct in office. Officers Jemini Jones, 28, Brian Shaffer, 31, and Steven Hatley, 27, are to receive a trial date if they plead not guilty.

Jones is accused of raping a woman who had been taken into custody while the others are accused of doing nothing to stop the attack, which allegedly occurred at the district's station house.

The entire flex squad was suspended and disbanded earlier this year as allegations of theft, drug possession and planting evidence came to light.

Mengel has been suspended with pay since the gambling raid. A department spokesman said she will now face an internal trial board to determine her punishment.

Mengel's attorney, Clarke F. Ahlers, argued in Baltimore District Court yesterday that the state was hypocritical in prosecuting his client for gambling when it promotes the state lottery.

"Gambling is an absolutely accepted cultural behavior," Ahlers said.

District Judge Nathan Braverman rejected that argument, saying that it wasn't his place to change state statute but rather to enforce the laws that are on the books - even laws that seemed out of step with society.

But it was clear throughout the trial that the courts are unaccustomed to dealing with gambling charges, particularly when it comes to Texas Hold 'Em, the increasingly popular poker game that Mengel had been playing.

At one point, the judge, Ahlers and Assistant State's Attorney Patricia Deros had to carefully read the language of the gambling statutes to understand how they applied to poker.

Braverman called one of the statutes "poorly drafted." At another point, noting that in his five-plus years on the bench, he'd never presided over a gambling trial, the judge said, "I don't know why the state is opting to do this now, but enforcement trends change."

A week before Mengel was charged, police raided a poker tournament at the Owl's Nest in South Baltimore, doling out 80 criminal citations. Prosecutors said they dismissed most of those citations because the participants were charged under the wrong criminal statute.

Three others charged in the Harford Road sting entered guilty pleas yesterday that netted them brief periods of probation before judgment. Two of them were fined $100. A fourth person charged had his case dismissed.

julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

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