A former Prince George’s County police sergeant admitted Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt that he took part in a scheme to smuggle untaxed cigarettes and alcohol from Virginia to Maryland.
The guilty plea by Richard J. Delabrer, 47, is part of a sweeping, ongoing federal corruption probe targeting the activities of current and former county elected officials, appointed officials, police officers, developers and other business people.
Delabrer, who worked for the police department for nearly 23 years, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit extortion and to a federal firearms violation.
According to federal prosecutors, Delabrer and other members of the conspiracy paid an undercover agent more than $1.7 million for more than 17 million untaxed cigarettes. The scheme cost state governments and the federal government more than $2.8 million in tax revenue, federal prosecutors said.
Delabrer, armed with a gun, made some of the deliveries of untaxed cigarettes from Virginia to Maryland, according to a statement of facts that he confirmed as part of his plea.
The firearms violation carries a mandatory five years in prison. Under complex federal sentencing guidelines, Delabrer could face about 14 years in prison for the extortion.
U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte did not immediately set a sentencing date.
Outside the courthouse, Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said the plea sends the message that “law enforcement is working in a very concerted way to root out corruption” in Prince George’s, from the police department to the executive branch.
Delabrer becomes the third person to plead guilty in the cigarette and alcohol smuggling scheme.
Last week, the primary target of the six-year corruption investigation, former county executive Jack B. Johnson, 62, pleaded guilty in federal court to two felony counts. He is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 15.
In addition to Johnson (D), two developers who paid bribes and a former county housing official who accepted bribes have pleaded guilty.
Johnson’s wife, Leslie Johnson, 59, a member of the County Council, was scheduled to appear at a hearing this month at which she was expected to plead guilty to one count of evidence and witness tampering. That hearing was canceled two days before it was to occur, and no additional hearings for her have been scheduled, officials said.
The broad probe became public in November, when federal agents arrested Jack Johnson after, according to court filings, he took a $25,000 cash bribe from a developer. At her husband’s direction, according to court papers, Leslie Johnson (D-Mitchellville) tore up and flushed down the toilet a $100,000 check from a developer and hid nearly $80,000 in her bra and underwear.
Delabrer and several others accused of involvement in the smuggling scheme and a police officer accused of trafficking in cocaine were arrested shortly after the Johnsons were locked up.
Federal officials have said the smuggling and political corruption investigations are related.