Majestic Body Shop at 7404 Philadelphia Road, owned by brothers… (Baltimore Sun photo by Kim…)
Officer Rodney Cintron took his car, damaged in an accident, to Majestic Auto Repair in Rosedale on the advice of a colleague, not realizing that the man was getting paid to send him there.
When the city police officer found out, he signed on to the scheme, according to court records. That decision four years ago would lead to a federal prison term and the end of his brief career.
The U.S. attorney's office for Maryland announced Wednesday that Cintron, 32, had been sentenced to 42 months in prison and was ordered to pay $40,000 in restitution, half to the Police Department and half split among several insurance companies, for accepting kickbacks from the car shop's owners.
The extortion scheme involved up to 50 Baltimore officers, 15 of whom were convicted in federal court, according to court records. Cintron's sentence is the longest any officer has received thus far — a full year more than any other offender.
Prosecutors describe the Middle River man as a leader of the conspiracy, which involved referring car-crash customers to Majestic in exchange for cash. He falsified accident reports to bolster insurance claims, added damage to vehicles and filed phony claims for his own car, according to his plea agreement. He brought his wife into the scheme, allowing her to pick up illegal payments on his behalf, documents say.
The total loss caused by Cintron is at least $120,000, prosecutors said, though only $13,000 went to Cintron, according to his Washington-based attorney, David Benowitz.
"At the time of his participation, he was struggling to support his family of five on his BPD salary of $42,000 per year," Benowitz wrote in a sentencing memorandum. "The proceeds of the scheme were used to make ends meet and to pay household bills."
Cintron joined the Baltimore force in May 2007 and was initially assigned to the Northeastern District. He was lured into the conspiracy in 2008, court records say, after his bumper was damaged in an accident.
Another officer recommended that he go see brothers Hernan and Edwin Mejia, who owned Majestic. Hernan Mejia told him that the officer who sent him "would get paid" for the referral and that "Cintron could make money for referring cars to Majestic as well," the plea agreement states.
Cintron sent customers to Majestic for commissions of $100 to $250 per vehicle. He told at least three other officers about the setup, bringing them on board.
Prosecutors characterized that as recruiting, but Cintron's lawyer played down the association.
"Mr. Cintron told colleagues about the referral fees he was receiving, and many of them chose to engage in the scheme with him," the sentencing memorandum states, putting the onus on the officers.
The sentencing memorandum describes Cintron as a family man who lives with his father-in-law, his wife, and their three boys, ages 5, 8 and 12. He coaches one son's baseball and football teams and volunteers at his children's elementary schools.
In letters submitted to the court, Cintron's friends and neighbors said he was a "person of good moral character," an attentive father and an inspirational coach, who put others before himself.
Cintron won a citation in 2009 for helping arrest a man armed with a .22-caliber revolver and was once named employee of the month. A letter from Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, also submitted to the court, thanks him for a "job well done" in January 2010.
Later that year, Cintron was suspended for reasons that have not been made public and reassigned to Central Records; police declined to explain why Wednesday. He was charged in the extortion scheme in February 2011.
Cintron now works as a property inspector for a private company, doing home occupant checks for banks.
In a letter to U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake, who oversaw his case, Cintron expressed regret for his actions.
"Words can never fully convey my remorse for the shame, disgrace and pain that I have inflicted on the department and my family, particularly my eldest son, who looked up to me and has now become a shell of the young vibrant boy I knew, and my parents, who always expected great things from me," he wrote. "I failed everyone, including my superiors and fellow officers in the department."
Cintron said he ended his relationship with Majestic a year before his arrest. His attorney recommended that Cintron be sentenced to probation or home detention.
But Blake disagreed, handing down the stiffest sentence in the scheme to date.
Ten officers have been sentenced to terms of between eight and 30 months. More than a dozen others have been suspended from the force, though they were not criminally charged.
Four officers, including the one who chose to go to trial, have yet to be sentenced, as have the Mejia brothers, who pleaded guilty in the conspiracy and agreed to cooperate with law enforcement.
One officer was prosecuted in state court, receiving a sentence of probation before judgment that will allow him to keep a clean record if he follows certain rules.
In a statement, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said the department, which initiated the investigation, hopes the sentences and restitution orders send "a clear message that undermining the trust of the people of Baltimore and dishonoring the integrity of this agency will not be tolerated."
Said Benowitz in an interview: "I think he's sincerely remorseful for what happened. It was not his intent for things to sort of spiral this way."
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