Baltimore Police Officer Pleads Guilty in Extortion Scheme
Vandalized His Own Car and Filed Fraudulent Insurance Claim
Baltimore, Maryland - Baltimore Police officer Jhonn Corona, age 33 of Rosedale, Maryland pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to commit and committing extortion under color of official right in connection with a scheme in which brothers Hernan Alexis Moreno, age 30, of Rosedale, and Edwin Javier Mejia, age 27, of Middle River, paid Corona and 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 Corona’s plea agreement, beginning in 2008, Moreno and Mejia agreed with Corona that while acting in his capacity as a Baltimore Police Department (BPD) officer at accident scenes, Corona would contact Moreno and Majestic 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 Corona $150, and later $300, for each vehicle that arrived at Majestic. Corona then began to refer vehicles on a regular basis to Majestic in exchange for payment, usually by contacting Moreno via cellular telephone.
Specifically, while on the scene of an accident, Corona 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 Corona, 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. Corona advised accident victims that they should not call their insurance company until after they spoke to Moreno.
Corona 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 Corona and the payment of the vehicle owner’s deductible.
On about July 30, 2010, Corona and Moreno agreed that they would inflict damage upon Corona’s personal vehicle, so that Corona could make a claim with his insurance company. Moreno and Corona intentionally drove the car into a pole, causing damage to the right side of the vehicle. Corona then contacted his insurance company, and falsely claimed that the car had been damaged in a hit and run accident. On August 2, 2010, in a recorded interview with a representative of the insurance company, Corona falsely stated that he had called the police from the alleged accident scene, that an officer had responded, but that he did not know the officer’s name nor did the officer prepare a police report. Moreno prepared a false tow receipt in the amount of $250, claiming that Mario’s Towing had towed Corona’s car to Majestic, when, in fact, the car was not towed. After inspection, the insurance company declared Corona’s car to be a total loss and paid Corona $3,238.57 for the vehicle.
From at least early 2008 until February, 2011, Moreno and Mejia paid Corona in cash for vehicles that he had referred to Majestic while performing his official duties as a police officer. 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 at least $120,000. The exact amount of loss will be determined at sentencing.
Corona 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 derived from or caused by the offense, for extortion under color of official right. U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake has scheduled sentencing for March 9, 2012.
Moreno and Mejia pleaded guilty to the extortion conspiracy and face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison at their sentencing on November 18, 2011 at 10:30 and 9:15 a.m., respectively.
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 Kathleen O. Gavin and Tonya Kelly Kowitz, who are prosecuting the case.