By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 23, 2010; 11:45 PM
A 22-year veteran of the Prince George's County police accused of participating in a scheme to distribute black-market alcohol and cigarettes pleaded not guilty Tuesday and was ordered released from custody as he awaits trial.
Federal authorities in Maryland allege that Sgt. Richard J. Delabrer, 45, of Laurel and others were paid by a prominent liquor store owner to guard the transportation of untaxed cigarettes and alcohol in Maryland and Virginia.
Prince George Police Cpl. Chong Chin Kim, 42, liquor store owner Amrik Singh Melhi, 51, and four others also have been arrested in connection with the alleged scheme. Each of the seven defendants is charged with conspiracy to commit extortion.
The allegations of liquor and cigarette trafficking are part of a far-reaching corruption investigation in Prince George's that became public this month when federal agents arrested County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) and his wife, Leslie, federal officials said.
The Johnsons are accused of evidence tampering in connection with a probe into whether Jack Johnson took bribes from a developer. The Johnsons were arrested Nov. 12 after Leslie Johnson allegedly flushed a $100,000 check down a toilet in their home and tried to hide $79,600 in cash in her bra as FBI agents knocked at the door of their home with a search warrant.
Delabrer, who had been in custody since his arrest last week, appeared Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt. Prosecutors offered no additional details about the allegations during the hearing, but they said an agreement had been reached to allow Delabrer to stay in his house under electronic monitoring and other conditions.
Delabrer's attorney, James N. Papirmeister, appeared in court with a bag full of Delabrer's family photos, performance evaluations and awards that his client has received over the years, including one for rescuing children from a burning apartment building in 1999.
Delabrer's wife and two of his four children also attended the hearing, Papirmeister said. He said the other two children are in high school.
"He has outstanding evaluations consistently. Perfect, no, but most of us in our career are not perfect," Papirmeister said after the hearing. "He was an officer of the year and he's won a bronze medal of valor."
Federal authorities allege in court papers that the scheme to move alcohol and cigarettes had been underway from at least July 2009 and continued until at least January.
Melhi, of Clarksville, owns several liquor stores including Tick Tock Liquor and Restaurant in Langley Park, where Delabrer worked off-duty as a security guard. Federal officials said Melhi paid Delabrer and other officers to use their "official authority" to ensure the untaxed items were moved without a problem.
Melhi and his wife also paid bribes to Prince George's County officials and hid $400,000 in cash in their closet, federal prosecutors said in court Nov. 16, when the Melhis were ordered held without bond.
The indictment seeks the forfeiture of $3.5 million in cash, 25 properties across the region and 13 vehicles. Officials allege the money and property are proceeds of crimes or were used to carry out criminal activity.
Prosecutors have said Melhi and his wife own at least a dozen businesses held in the names of other people. They said the couple have tried to hide their assets.
Another defendant in the alleged liquor scheme, Jose Moreno, 49, of Alexandria also pleaded not guilty Tuesday. Prosecutors did not elaborate on Moreno's alleged role, and a judge ordered him released on electronic monitoring once his family installs a land line in the home.
A police spokesman said Delabrer joined the department in 1988. Kim joined the force in 1994. They have been suspended without pay.
In a separate scheme, authorities say, county police officer Sinisa Simic, 25, of Woodbridge is accused of conspiring to distribute cocaine and using firearms in drug trafficking. A police spokesman said he was hired in 2007.
In a recent court hearing, a federal prosecutor said agents uncovered the cocaine conspiracy while investigating Simic and other officers in connection with the alleged trafficking in cigarettes and alcohol.