By Aaron C. Davis
Washington Post Staff Writer
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.
That killing was partially caught on police surveillance video by officers on a stakeout looking for illegal activity by their fellow officers. None of the police officers being investigated was seen by detectives that night.
The documents show that 10 days earlier, the victim, Dewayne Dunmore, 37, had identified his killer, Benjamin Perry Jr., to police as a suspect in a previous slaying. Perry was convicted in September of second-degree murder.
The documents reveal that investigators focused on whether any officers could be tied to Dunmore's killing. One person interviewed by police claimed secondhand knowledge of a conversation in which a Prince George's officer provided information to another man connected to the gambling operation that "resulted in the murder," according to a document detailing portions of the task force's work.
The document does not indicate whether investigators were able to substantiate the claim.
All six sources said they had no knowledge that any officer under investigation had been tied to Dunmore's killing or to any other slaying believed to be connected to the gambling operation. Perry also did not assert any police connection at his trial last year.
Documents show that investigators have been probing possible connections among the gambling ring, the officers and three killings. Sources said two other slayings also might be tied to the gambling ring. Documents show that at least some of the victims had participated in the games as players, but sources would not elaborate on how the others might have been involved with the gambling operation.First Sign of Investigation
The first hint of the federal probe emerged last month, when Prince George's Cpl. Eddie Smith was arrested in a June 10 bank break-in in Temple Hills. Smith, 41, was accused of driving a partner to the bank in his police cruiser and providing power tools to saw open the safe while he stood guard -- armed and in uniform -- ostensibly to ensure that the burglary was not interrupted.
In executing a search warrant at his Fort Washington home a day later, police found a garage loaded with a top-of-the-line Dodge Viper and other luxury cars as well as a home theater system, arcade games and other expensive electronics that seemed excessive for Smith's county salary last year of $75,885, according to two sources familiar with the investigation. But one of those sources, as well as another familiar with the couple and the case, said Smith's wife's large salary could probably explain much of their material wealth.
After Prince George's police charged Smith with felony burglary and other counts, sources said the FBI and U.S. attorney's office quickly took over the case, citing a related investigation. The case against Smith is pending indictment.
According to the documents reviewed by The Post, Smith was well known to investigators. His street name is "X-Man," and he is one of the officers who witnesses have told investigators took money to protect the gambling operation, documents show. He had also been under federal surveillance and found to be in regular contact with one of the principals behind the gambling operation, according to documents and sources.
Smith has not responded to repeated requests for comment left at his home. Prince George's police said he resigned shortly after his arrest.
Smith's attorney, William C. Brennan Jr., said he had no knowledge of a federal investigation into Smith that predates last month's arrest. "I've heard a lot of rumors and innuendoes associated with my client's perceived lifestyle," Brennan said. "My practice is to not comment on such rumor and innuendo."Speculation Prompted
Less than two weeks after Smith's arrest, the abrupt departure of another veteran county officer last month drew speculation within the Prince George's police department that Smith's arrest might have accelerated the investigation, sources said.
Separate from the gambling probe, the officer was facing possible disciplinary action stemming from a domestic dispute. But it is common for officers to weather such scrutiny and remain on the force, especially if they have not reached 20 years of service, the point at which they receive the bulk of their pension benefits.
In an interview, the officer said that he left the department to pursue "a better opportunity" to be self-employed in the security field and that his departure had nothing to do with the coming disciplinary hearing. He said he had no knowledge of the federal probe and had never attended a gambling game of the nature described in documents and by sources.
"I don't know nothing about that, never heard of it, don't even know what that could be about," the officer said.
The Post is not identifying the officer -- or five of the seven named in investigative documents -- because they have not been charged with any wrongdoing in connection with the gambling operation.
Along with the officer who left the department, another who reached 20 years of service recently retired. A third is on restricted duty for a recent police-involved shooting. The fourth and fifth, including the veteran police official in the District, remain on duty. District police officials said they had no knowledge of a federal probe concerning an officer.
Kenneth Shelley, the former Housing Authority officer arrested in the police raid, received a suspended sentence of probation before judgment last year for carrying a loaded .40-caliber handgun outside a game held in a Waldorf warehouse in May 2007, court records show.
A 16-year veteran of the District's corrections system and Housing Authority police, Shelley said in court records that he had lost his job, wife and family because of a "poor decision."
There was no answer last week at the Oxon Hill area address listed for Shelley in court records. Several phone numbers listed in his name in recent years were also disconnected.
In a letter to a Charles County Circuit Court judge before his sentencing, Shelley described the incident as a costly lapse in judgment and out of character with his work as a minister helping to mentor young men.
Two of the sources who spoke on condition of anonymity said they did so because they were concerned that Prince George's police might not be acting as aggressively in the investigation as they once had. A raid of a gambling site was inexplicably postponed at the last minute early this year, they said.
Hylton said anyone with an impression that the department is uninterested in the investigation is misinformed. He said he did not know about the postponed raid and probably wouldn't because he considered the investigation a federal matter.
Some of the most well-informed sources said it appears that the gambling operation has waned in recent months since the police raids.
Bankruptcy and other public records show that in that time, at least two of the officers under investigation have shown signs of financial distress.
Staff writer Allison Klein and staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.