A former Prince George’s County police sergeant was sentenced Monday to nearly four years in prison in a case linked to a far-reaching corruption probe involving county officials and prominent real estate developers.
Richard J. Delabrer, who worked for the police department for more than two decades, pleaded guilty in the spring to a scheme to smuggle alcohol and millions of untaxed cigarettes from Virginia to Maryland.
“Your whole mission was to enforce the law, and you turned your back on that,” U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte said before announcing Delabrer’s sentence at the federal courthouse in Greenbelt. “We need to tell other officers and other public officials, ‘It cannot be done. It cannot be tolerated.’ ”
Delabrer, 47, and others involved in the scheme paid an undercover agent $1.7 million for more than 17 million untaxed cigarettes, which were then resold, according to the plea agreement. In total, the scheme cost the state and federal governments $2.8 million in lost tax revenue, prosecutors said.
Delabrer’s role was primarily protecting the illegal shipments, in some cases following a transport vehicle while carrying his police-issued gun, according to federal prosecutors.
He worked with a local businessman, Amir Miljkovic of
Bowie, who has admitted to selling the cigarettes to Chun Chen, a carryout store owner from Bowie, and Chong Chin Kim, a Prince George’s police officer who is awaiting sentencing.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Copperthite said the case “degrades what we expect from the people we put in positions of trust.”
“The people who are entrusted to protect the public cannot be out committing the crimes,” Copperthite said.
Prosecutors said Delabrer, a father of four from a family of police officers, had been in a position to retire at any time from the department with an $80,000-a-year pension.
In court Monday, Delabrer acknowledged that he “took a short cut that will always alter my life . . . I have no one to blame but myself.”
Midway through his statement, he became emotional and deferred to his attorney, James Papirmeister.
Papirmeister said Delabrer did not initially know “there was anything illegal” about the operation. The government supplied the untaxed cigarettes and liquor through an undercover agent, he said, and “could have stopped after the first time.”
Messitte was not persuaded. “I’m missing your point. What difference does it make?” he asked.
Messitte sentenced Delabrer to 46 months for one count of conspiracy to commit extortion and 46 months for a federal firearms violation, to be served simultaneously. Delabrer must pay $184,000 in restitution and forfeit a Greenbelt property.
Delabrer and eight others were arrested in 2010 just days after former Prince George’s county executive Jack B. Johnson (D) and his wife, Leslie, were taken from their home in handcuffs as part of the investigation. The former county executive is serving a seven-year prison term; his wife, a former Democratic County Council member, is serving a one-year sentence.
Federal officials have said that the contraband and political corruption probes are related, and Messitte alluded to the sweeping investigations during the nearly two-hour-long sentencing hearing.
“There has been an unfortunate cesspool of corruption in Prince George’s County,” he said. “What is the perception of the public?”
Delabrer also provided security part-time for the owners of Tick Tock Liquors and coordinated the sale of untaxed liquor from the undercover agent to the owners, according to the plea agreement.
Federal prosecutors have said that FBI wiretaps picked up conversations between the liquor store owner, Amrik S. Melhi, and public officials about bribes he paid.
Overall, 15 of 16 defendants have been convicted in the related corruption investigations, according to the Maryland U.S. attorney’s office.