BALTIMORE (WJZ) – A towing scandal is pulling officers off the streets of Baltimore. More than 30 members of the force are now tied to the extortion scheme.
Derek Valcourt has the latest on the case.
Suspension hearings were held inside police headquarters throughout the day Thursday and will continue into Friday afternoon for a total of 31 officers, and police say it’s possible more officers could be implicated.
The Majestic Auto Repair Shop was raided by federal agents. The Rosedale business is at the center of a major corruption investigation — accused of illegally paying city police officers $300 kickbacks for every time they helped steer a car involved in an accident to Majestic for repairs.
On Wednesday, 15 officers were told to report to the police academy for equipment inspections. Instead they were arrested by the FBI and Police Commissioner Fred Bealefeld.
“I said, ‘I’m not here to give you a speech. I’m here to take back our badge,’” Bealefeld said.
In all, 17 officers face criminal charges. And on Thursday the police department confirmed another 14 officers have been suspended–stripped of their badges, but not arrested– for violating departmental rules related to the corruption case.
A spokesman was unable to provide details on the allegations against those officers, calling it a personnel matter.
When asked if those officers could potentially lose their jobs, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said: “I wouldn’t box in anything at this point. I think this investigation is very much open.”
The arrests and suspensions mean the department is losing 31 officers off the streets. A large number of them worked right at the northeastern district.
“This is something we’ve been planning for quite a while,” Guglielmi said. “We anticipated this.”
Police say they’ll temporarily be moving roughly 20 to 25 officers from their community stabilization unit over to the northeastern district to make up for the shortfall.
Meantime the mayor and the police commissioner hope the arrests and suspensions send a clear message.
“For me this is an affirmation about our resolve to ferreting out corruption within our ranks,” Bealefeld said.
Mike Schuh spoke with a potential victim of the scam.
With 31 officers being suspected of getting payments over a two-year period, it’s possible there are hundreds of victims.
Though Majestic Auto Body is open for business, walk up to entrance and you’re greeted with a locked door.
Sources in the towing industry detail to WJZ why the feds allege Majestic was paying police officers $250-300 for each car steered there. After an accident on city streets, Majestic didn’t have the permits needed to drop the cars at the city lot, nor did the company want them to.
Once delivered to Majestic, the car owners often didn’t want to pay $100 or more to have their cars towed to a different body shop.
WJZ spoke with a victim that followed their script.
“I guess we’ll just let them fix it there since its already there,” said Stephanie Fogg, whose car was towed to Majestic.
Fogg has her car being repaired at Majestic right now. She works in Silver Spring and gave us call Thursday afternoon.
Now she has new concerns for someone already dealing with the trauma of a major car accident.
“If I can’t trust they’ve done the right thing to start off with, are they going to do the right thing when it comes to repairing my car? Am I going to have problems with it? I just don’t have the trust right now,” Fogg said.
Her car has been at the body shop for nearly three weeks.
“At this point, I don’t know what to do, to pull my car out and take it away from here or leave it there for repairs,” Fogg said. “I just don’t know what to do now.”
Our media partner the Baltimore Sun reports this scam is identical to ones which happened in the city 40 and 50 years ago.
The officers arrested range in age from 24 to 41. Read previous story.
Click here to read full affidavit.