Final Baltimore Police Officer Pleads Guilty in Towing Extortion Scheme
Fifteen Police Officers Have Pled Guilty in the Extortion Scheme in Federal Court and Another Officer Pleaded Guilty in State Court
Baltimore, Maryland - Baltimore Police officer Jaime Luis Lugo, age 36, of Aberdeen, Maryland pleaded guilty today to conspiring to commit and committing extortion under color of official right in connection with a scheme in which brothers Hernan Alexis Moreno and Edwin Javier Mejia paid Lugo and over 50 other officers to arrange for their car repair company, Majestic, rather than a city-authorized company, to tow vehicles from accident scenes and make repairs.
The guilty plea was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein, Special Agent in Charge Richard A. McFeely of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III.
According to his guilty plea, beginning in 2010, Moreno and Mejia agreed with Lugo that while acting in his capacity as Baltimore Police Department (BPD) officer at accident scenes, Lugo would contact Moreno and Mejia for towing and repair services for vehicles even though Majestic was not an authorized tow company for the City of Baltimore. In exchange, Mejia or Moreno would pay Lugo $300 for each vehicle that arrived at Majestic. Lugo then began to refer vehicles on a regular basis to Moreno in exchange for payment, usually by contacting Moreno by cell phone.
Specifically, while on the scene of an accident, Lugo would contact Moreno and provide him with the details of the accident, including the type and extent of damage to the car or cars, insurance information and contact information for the car’s owner. It was agreed that Lugo, while performing his official duties as a police officer, 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. Lugo advised accident victims that they should not call their insurance company until after they spoke to Moreno or Mejia.
Lugo also understood and agreed that Moreno and Mejia would create additional damage to certain vehicles in order to increase the vehicle insurance claims, thereby increasing the net profit for Majestic as well as covering both the cash bribe payment to Lugo and the payment of the vehicle owner’s deductible. When referring vehicles from accident scenes, Lugo often discussed with Moreno whether a particular vehicle needed more damage. Lugo also falsified his police reports on several occasions in order to make it appear that the damage added to a vehicle by Majestic had been caused by an accident so that the insurance company would not question the repairs. Moreno paid Lugo $200 in cash in exchange for falsifying a police report.
From at least October 2010 to February 2011, Moreno and Mejia paid Lugo $6,000 in cash for vehicles that he had referred to Majestic. Those payments, plus the cost of the additional damages that Moreno and others inflicted upon various accident vehicles in the form of insurance claims paid by the various insurance companies, caused a total loss of between $120,000 to $200,000.
Lugo faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison for the conspiracy, and a maximum of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,0000 or twice the amount of the gross gain or loss for extortion. U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake has scheduled sentencing for July 10, 2012 at 9:00 a.m.
Hernan Alexis Moreno, age 30, of Rosedale, and Edwin Javier Mejia, age 27, of Middle River pleaded guilty to the extortion conspiracy and face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Their sentencing has not yet been scheduled.
Fifteen Baltimore Police officers have pleaded guilty to their participation in the extortion scheme in federal court and one officer pleaded guilty in state court.
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 are prosecuting the case.