Shop Owners Plead Guilty in Towing Scheme
BALTIMORE (AP) — The owners of a Baltimore County auto repair shop pleaded guilty Monday in a towing scheme that may have involved dozens of Baltimore city police officers.
Brothers Edwin Mejia, 28, and Hernan Alexis Moreno Mejia, 31, owners of Majestic Auto Repair Shop in Rosedale, admitted to conspiring to commit extortion under color of official right and extortion under color of official right.
Seventeen officers were charged in February in the scheme, accused of taking kickbacks to send customers to Majestic, instead of arranging for a tow from a city-authorized company. Two officers have pleaded guilty.
Police have said 31 officers were suspended in the case. The scheme grew to include more than 50 officers, according to court documents. Prosecutors declined to say if additional officers would face charges.
The brothers agreed with an officer in 2008 that he would contact them when he was on the scene of a crash and be paid $150 for each vehicle, according to court documents. The amount was later raised to $300 per vehicle and the officer recruited other officers. Later, another officer who approached the brothers and made a similar agreement also agreed to tell the owners of vehicles involved in crashes that Majestic would pay their insurance deductible and to tell their insurance company that their vehicle was not drivable, even if it was. The brothers paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to officers, according to court documents.
Sometimes Majestic would do more damage to the vehicles to increase their profits and officers would falsify their accident reports to reflect that damage — costing insurance companies hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to court documents.
At sentencing in November, the brothers face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the conspiracy charge and up to 20 years and a fine of up to $250,000 or twice the amount gained for the extortion charge. The plea deal calls for sentence of between five to nine years in prison.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)