Business Owner Who Conspired With Former Baltimore City Employee To Extort Bribes From Other Business Owners Ordered To Pay $100,000 Fine
Former Baltimore City Department of Transportation Supervisor Previously Sentenced to Federal Prison for His Role in the Scheme
Baltimore, Maryland – U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake today ordered Jerome Walter Stephens, age 48, of Baltimore, to pay a $100,000 fine, and sentenced him to serve six months in community confinement and six months in home detention as part of three years of probation, for Extortion Under Color of Official Right related to an extortion scheme. Judge Blake also ordered Stephens to perform 100 hours of community service. Stephens, the owner of a Baltimore construction and utilities company, admitted paying bribes to co-defendant Daryl Christopher Wade, age 50, of Rosedale, Maryland, a former Baltimore City Department of Transportation supervisor, and to soliciting bribes from others.
On November 9, 2018, Judge Blake sentenced Daryl Christopher Wade to 15 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, for the same charge.
The sentences were announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Robert K. Hur; Special Agent in Charge Gordon B. Johnson of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Baltimore Field Office; and Inspector General Isabel M. Cumming of the Baltimore City Office of Inspector General.
The people of Baltimore expect and deserve integrity from their public officials. We will hold them, and those who participate in corruption, accountable,” said United States Attorney Robert K. Hur.
Wade was a City of Baltimore employee between 1988 through 2017, most recently with the Baltimore City Department of Transportation (DOT) as a Construction Project Supervisor II within the DOT’s Street Cut Unit. The DOT Street Cut Unit helps to monitor and administer fines associated with street cuts and street cut permits. According to the criminal information and the plea agreement, Wade used his official position at DOT to claim that he could void street cut fines in return for payments.
According to their plea agreements, Wade accepted multiple cash payments, including from Stephens, in exchange for claiming that he could erase Baltimore DOT street cut fines. Baltimore City street cut permits are required for companies who need to impede into a public street, alley, sidewalk, or other right-of-way for purposes of construction. The street cut permits are valid for 120 days before they expire, and DOT will assess a fine of $50 per day for each street cut not repaired past the expiration date.
Stephens and Wade admitted that they either attempted to or actually did extort other business owners throughout Baltimore. In one such instance, Person A was the Vice President of a Virginia-based company that provided all phases of underground utility construction and sewer rehabilitation throughout the East Coast and had approximately $55 million in contracts with the City of Baltimore to restore and/or replace water and sewer lines in the City. In order to complete those contracts, Person A's company conducted street cuts to reach, restore, and/or replace water and sewer lines in Baltimore.
In January 2016, Person A met with Stephens at one of Person A’s offices, in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Stephens told Person A that Person A’s company would be receiving $1.3 million in street cut fines from the street cuts unit in the near future. This was the first that Person A had learned of the $1.3 million in prospective fines. Stephens told Person A that he had a connection in the street cuts unit that could reduce the $1.3 million in fines by 80%, to $260,000, if Person A paid 20%, a $52,000 bribe, to Stephens’s connection. Stephens also stated something to the effect of: if you want to play, you got to pay. Person A made clear that he was not interested in paying the $52,000 bribe and would sue the City of Baltimore over the fines if necessary.
In another instance to which both Stephens and Wade admitted in their respective plea agreements, in February 2016, Person B, a local Baltimore business owner, began renovations on a restaurant in Baltimore, Maryland. Person B hired Stephens to overhaul the water lines into Person B’s business. In July 2016, Stephens informed Person B that he (Stephens) would have to cut into the road. Stephens informed Person B that the complete repaving, from curb to curb, had an estimated additional cost to Person B of between approximately $10,000 to approximately $12,000 but said he had a connection "downtown" in the City of Baltimore who could save Person B on the costs associated with completely repaving if Person B was willing to pay a bribe. Due to Person B's limited budget, and the fact that the street had already been cut, Person B agreed to pay a bribe to repave the smaller sections of the road. Stephens and Wade discussed how much Wade would accept and Wade agreed to a $2,200 bribe. Person B gave Stephens $2,200 in cash, which Stephens then gave to Wade.
Finally, according to Wade’s plea agreement, he also took a bribe from Person C, who ran a plumbing and drain construction business in Baltimore, Maryland. Person C was previously fined approximately $17,000 for street cuts in Baltimore City. In March 2016, Person C attended a Baltimore City street cut appeal hearing regarding the fine. Wade stopped the hearing and requested to speak with Person C outside the hearing. Once outside the hearing, Wade explained to Person C that if Person C helped Wade that he would help Person C.
In early September 2016, Wade met in-person with Person C and agreed to accept $5,000 to remove the fine. On September 22, 2016, Person C paid Wade the first $3,000 in cash. Wade arrived at the meeting driving a Baltimore City issued government vehicle. At the direction of Wade, Person C threw the $3,000 into Wade’s Baltimore City government vehicle. After the money was in his Baltimore City government vehicle, Wade stated “you good for life with me. . . .” and later laughed and further stated to Person C, “we in cahoots now. . . .”
United States Attorney Robert K. Hur commended the FBI and Baltimore City Office of Inspector General for their work in the investigation. Mr. Hur thanked Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Wise, who prosecuted the case.
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