Auto Towing and Repair Shop Paid Police Officers to Steer Car Owners to Their Business Instead of Less-Expensive, City-Authorized Companies; in Some Cases, Repair Shop Vandalized Cars and Officers Falsified Police Reports to Increase Insurance Claims
BALTIMORE—U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake sentenced Hernan Alexis Moreno, age 32, of Rosedale, Maryland, today to 33 months in prison; and his brother, Edwin Javier Mejia, age 29, of Middle River, Maryland, to two years in prison for conspiring to commit extortion in connection with a scheme in which they paid over 50 police officers to arrange for their car repair company, Majestic, rather than a city-authorized company, to tow vehicles from accident scenes and make repairs. Judge Blake also ordered the brothers to pay restitution of $129,249.70 to the victim insurance companies.
The sentences were announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Acting Special Agent in Charge Timothy P. Groh of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Acting Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Barksdale.
U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said, “We hope this case sent a clear message that police officers cannot take payments from private citizens in connection with their official duties.”
According to their plea agreements, beginning in 2008, the brothers agreed to pay Baltimore Police Department (BPD) officers Jhonn Corona and Rodney Cintron to contact them from accident and hit-and-run scenes for towing and repair services instead of contacting a city-authorized tow company. In exchange, Mejia or Moreno would pay the officers $150 to $300 for each vehicle that arrived at Majestic. These two officers began to recruit other BPD officers to participate in the scheme.
Moreno and Mejia knew that the BPD requires that police only use towing companies that are under contract with the city of Baltimore to provide towing services for the BPD and that BPD officers could not accept payments for using their authority to steer vehicle owners to Majestic for tow and repair services.
According to their plea agreements, by February 23, 2011, more than 50 BPD officers had joined in the scheme. Specifically, while responding to the scene of an accident, BPD officers would call Moreno on his cell phone and provide him with the details of the accident. BPD officers would persuade accident victims to allow their cars to be towed or otherwise delivered to Majestic by telling the victims that Majestic could tow the car, provide repair services, help with the insurance claim, assist in getting a rental car and waive the owner’s deductible. In some cases the accident victims’ cars were towed even if the vehicle was not actually disabled. Later, the BPD officer arranged to meet Moreno or Mejia to receive cash for steering the car owner to Majestic.
Additionally, Moreno and Mejia arranged with some of the officers to add damage to the vehicles in order to increase Majestic’s profit from the insurance payment in order to cover the cost of paying the BPD officers and the vehicle owner’s deductible payments to the insurance company. The BPD officer would then falsify the accident report to make it appear that the damage had been caused by the accident so that the insurance adjusters would not question the repairs performed by Majestic and paid for by the insurance companies.
Over the course of the scheme, the amount of loss resulting from payments made by Majestic to BPD officers and for insurance claims paid by the insurance companies for damage inflicted on vehicles was between $200,000 and $400,00.
Jhonn Corona and Rodney Cintron, both age 34, and 12 other police officers have pleaded guilty to the extortion conspiracy in federal court and one officer pleaded guilty in state court. One officer was convicted by a federal jury after a six-day trial. All 15 officers have been sentenced, receiving between eight and 42 months in prison. Corona received 30 months in prison, and Cintron received 42 months.
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein praised the FBI and the Baltimore Police Department for their work in the investigation. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant United States Attorneys Tonya N. Kelly and Kathleen O. Gavin, who prosecuted the case.