A D.C. police detective was arrested on a bribery charge yesterday after he allegedly made weekly payoffs totaling nearly $2,000 to a police vice squad sergeant in order to protect the operator of an illegal lottery from being arrested.
Detective Jonnie Lee Steele, 37, a 12-year police veteran, allegedly proposed the payoff scheme to Sgt. Brian C. Gaines less than two weeks after Gaines' 5th District vice unit arrested the allged lottery operator for the second time last December, according to a police affidavit filed in U.S. District Court.
Gaines immediately reported the alleged bribe offer to Inspector Horatius W. Wilson, director of the police internal affairs unit, and a secret investigation was begun with Gaines pretending to be a willing participant in the payoff scheme, according to the affidavit.
A federal bribery arrest warrant has also been issued for the alleged lottery operator, but he had not been arrested as of late yesterday. Police declined to reveal his identity until he is apprehended.
Steele told Gaines the alleged lottery operator was the source of the payoff money, according to the affidavit. Steele said the man was a friend who "was willing to pay . . . for protection of his own lottery operation from officers of the District police department, 5th District Vice Squad," the affidavit said. The 5th police district, with headquarter at 1805 Bladensburg Rd. NE, includes most of Northeast Waqshington west of the Anacostia River.
Beginning on Jan. 6 and continuing for several weeks after that, Steele, who worked in the 3rd District, met regularly with Gaines and handed him the cash payoffs, according to the affidavit. On each occasion police internal affairs investigators hid close by and secretly monitored the meetings, according to sources familiar with the investigation.
Gaines received a total of $1,950, the affidavit alleged. The first payment was a $300 "bonus" and the rest totaled $150 a week, according to the affidavit.
Several of the alleged payoffs were made in a parking lot a short distance from police headquarters at 300 Indiana Ave. NW, according to sources. The lot is in the 500 block of Third Street NW and has been nicknamed "the hole" by police officers who park their cars there regularly. Sources said that the lot would be a good location for the exchange of payoffs because it would not be unusual for police officers from different districts to be seen meeting here.
Deputy Chief Rodwell Catoe, commander of the 3rd District where Steele had a reputation for being "a high-quality oficer." Catoe said Steele was arrested at 3rd District headquarters at 17th and V streets NW shortly before noon yesterday. He declined to make any further comment on the case. Steele, who lives in Hillcrest Heights, will be placed on an indefinite leave of absence pending the outcome of the criminal case, according to a police spokesman. Steele was released on his personal recognizance after a brief bond hearing yesterday before U.S. Magistrate Arthur L. Burnett.
After Steel first approached Gaines in late December, according to the affidavit, there was a meeting on Dec. 31 in which Steele introduced the alleged lottery operator to Gaines. The man told Gaines that if he agreed to the bribery scheme, Steele would soon begin to provide Gaines with the money, the affidavit said.
Less than a week later on Jan. 6, the first payoff was made, the affidavit alleged.