A federal jury on Thursday convicted the last of 17 Baltimore police officers charged in a broad kickback scheme, hours after another officer who had stood trial pleaded guilty.
Officer Samuel Ocasio, 36, was found guilty by the jury of conspiracy and extortion under color of official right, while Officer Kelvin Manrich, 42, pleaded guilty to the same counts earlier in the day, before jurors began deliberating.
Ocasio, who is from Edgewood, and Manrich, from Middle River, face a maximum sentence of five years in prison for the conspiracy, and a maximum of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 for extortion.
The kickback scheme, in which more than 60 officers were said to have received money from a Rosedale body shop owner in exchange for referrals from accident scenes, was perhaps the largest scandal in the Police Department’s history.
The investigation was launched by the department’s internal investigations section, which eventually brought in the FBI. Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III personally seized the charged officers’ badges after summoning them to the department’s training academy under the ruse of getting their weapons checked.
“I’m not celebrating this,” Bealefeld said in an interview about the verdict, “but I’m encouraged by our internal commitment to ferreting out corruption and bad cops, and I’m encouraged about our ability to succeed in getting justice done. We dedicated really sharp detectives and formed good partnerships to help get this done.”
In a statement, U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein added: “Working as a law enforcement officer is a commitment and not just a job, which is why it requires a sworn oath. A police officer who takes a payment from a private citizen in connection with public duties crosses a bright line from which there is no return.”
All but three of the officers who faced criminal charges pleaded guilty; charges were dropped against one officer. Testimony at the trial of Ocasio and Manrich revealed allegations of broader misconduct among officers, including making false reports and misleading motorists involved in accidents to further the kickback scheme.
Prosecutors presented an abundance of evidence, including wiretapped phone conversations, video surveillance, phone and banking records, and testimony from drivers whose cars were towed.
Ocasio, recruited from Puerto Rico during in the department’s 2006 push to increase its ranks of Spanish speaking officers, had maintained through his attorney that he did not accept kickbacks and only made referrals to the body shop, Majestic Auto Repair. But the shop owners, who pleaded guilty last year, testified that Ocasio was among the officers who made referrals for cash and helped the body shop defraud insurance companies.
Manrich, meanwhile, had admitted to the scheme in an interview with an FBI agent after his arrest.
Sentencings are scheduled on May 25 for Manrich and on June 1 for Ocasio.
The officers are suspended without pay — by rule, the department cannot take administrative action against officers while criminal charges are pending. Others who were implicated in the scheme but not charged were terminated, though it is not clear how many officers were affected because the agency says it cannot comment on personnel matters.
“The administrative process of this is still ongoing,” Bealefeld said.