D.C. Area Officers Subject of FBI Probe
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Federal authorities are investigating whether a group of Washington area police officers took money to protect a high-stakes gambling ring frequented by some of the region's most powerful drug dealers over the past two years, according to internal police documents and law enforcement sources.
The officers include five veterans in Prince George's County, a District police official and a former D.C. Housing Authority officer. Two under investigation have been spotted on police surveillance outside gambling sites, including one providing security in tactical gear. Witnesses have alleged that others wore police uniforms and drove marked cruisers to gatherings. One was arrested in a police raid outside a game with a handgun.
Phone records, surveillance and other evidence tie most of the officers directly to the game's operators, which include known drug dealers, documents show. Authorities have not moved against most of the officers or known operators of the game, in part because they continue to investigate whether any of the officers are linked to several slayings connected to the ring, according to documents and sources. It is unclear how much money the officers might have taken to provide the protection and whether the investigation will lead to charges.
Like other major police departments, Prince George's routinely investigates its officers, sometimes in coordination with federal authorities. But the breadth and depth of this investigation are rare. It involves more officers than any in recent years and a potentially flagrant abuse of police power. The corruption probe has also gone on longer than any that has come to light since a sting operation nearly two decades ago related to the case of notorious drug dealer Rayful Edmond III culminated in the indictment of 12 District police officers.
Prince George's Police Chief Roberto L. Hylton acknowledged the investigation for the first time but declined to elaborate on it, other than to say he was "disheartened" by the alleged wrongdoing by county officers.
Hylton decided to turn over the probe, which had been a joint operation with the FBI, entirely to federal authorities when he took over the department early this year because he wanted to remove any doubt that the investigation would be thorough and impartial, he said. In accordance with FBI policy, Richard J. Wolf, the bureau's Baltimore field office spokesman, declined to confirm or deny the existence of an investigation.
"When you have such an intense investigation, and to show objectivity and to remove any air of impropriety, I thought it was best suited to have an agency outside the police department manage and handle this investigation," Hylton said, adding that he has chosen not to receive updates about it. "I've said before, we don't have a perfect organization . . . we have troubles and trials like everyone else. But one thing I can promise you is that I believe in accountability. I will not allow a dirty police officer to harm or affect the good work that the majority of these police officers are doing every single day."
The sources said that investigators think the gambling ring's operators, at least one of whom is a longtime friend of a Prince George's officer under investigation, sought police assistance for security. The gatherings, held late at night and rotated among warehouses and other industrial locations, centered around craps games in which $100,000 or more could be seen in play at a time. Among the bettors were drug dealers and their entourages, sometimes from as far away as Baltimore, sources said.
"It's right out of the movies," one source said of the scope of the officers' possible criminal misconduct. "As big as it gets," another said.
A Robust Inquiry
Six law enforcement sources, some directly involved in the investigation and the rest briefed on portions of it, discussed details of the case on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the probe. Internal police documents reviewed by The Washington Post corroborate their accounts and reveal a robust investigation anchored in the gambling ring that has extended far beyond it.
A task force formed by the FBI and Prince George's internal affairs officers investigated whether at least two of the officers actively participated in the drug trade, smuggling and storing large amounts of cocaine, and whether another tipped off drug dealers about a police narcotics operation. Investigators also continue to chase leads that several of the officers trafficked in stolen property, including high-performance motorcycles.
The sources would not say what, if any, firm evidence investigators have tying officers to wrongdoing beyond their connections to the gambling ring. But documents show that investigators have been building a case against the group since 2007. The Housing Authority officer was arrested carrying a gun outside one of the ring's secret Southern Maryland gambling sites in a police raid in May of that year. The investigation expanded significantly in January 2008, when a confidential police informant was killed after a gambling game in Capitol Heights.