An Anne Arundel County police lieutenant is in federal custody on charges he received child pornography in the form of sexually explicit text messages and digital pictures sent to his cell phone by a teen-age girl more than 30 years his junior.
Lt. James B. Cifala, 47, could be sentenced to between five and 20 years in prison if convicted. A detention hearing is scheduled today.
"This case is particularly disturbing because it involves an individual who had a professional duty of protecting our children," Richard McFeely, the special agent in charge of the Baltimore office of the FBI, said in a statement.
According to a redacted FBI affidavit filed, a mother and stepfather contacted the agency's Baltimore division in September, concerned that their daughter, who was born in 1993, was involved in a sexual relationship with an adult male.
Text messages between the girl and a man named "Johnny," identified by agents as Cifala, are explicit.
"You were great today," reads an Aug. 15 message sent from Johnny. "Sex with you is fun," the girl replied.
Between Aug. 14 and Sept. 6, 2009, there were more than 1,300 exchanges, mostly texts, between their cell phones. The girl told agents she also sent nude photos to Cifala, who is also accused of sending images of himself. Cifala made his initial appearance in Baltimore U.S. District Court on Thursday, wearing what appeared to be police apparel: a dark, long-sleeved shirt with epaulets and cargo-style pants. He was arrested Wednesday.
A defense attorney, standing in temporarily, declined to comment on Cifala's behalf, as did three family members, including his wife, who were in the courtroom. She passed Cifala his blood pressure medication after the brief hearing, and the couple exchanged a kiss by putting their lips to their fingertips and touching hands before he was led from the room in cuffs.
Anne Arundel County police spokesman Justin Mulcahey said Cifala, a 27-year member of the force, is still employed with the department. He declined to address whether he had been suspended, as was suggested in court. Department regulations allow an officer to be suspended without pay if charged with a felony.
"The Police Department holds its officers to the highest ethical standards," Col. James Teare, Sr., chief of police, said.
The Arundel state's attorney's office said that it's unlikely Cifalo was an arresting officer recently because of his rank. Still, officials plan to review whether his testimony is central to any pending cases, said spokeswoman Kristin Fleckenstein.