Police commissioner asked FBI in to investigate corrupt coppers

Commissioner Bealefeld and Grayling Williams

Tucked behind a liquor store, opposite a flooring company, Majestic Body Shop was an unremarkable sight amid a blur of commercial properties just east of the city limits. But the police cars that always seemed to be parked at the repair shop caught the eyes of passing drivers. The F.B.I. noticed as well — agents were videotaping Majestic and tapping its phone.

What the investigation revealed was startling: a bribery racket suspected to involve kickbacks to dozens of Baltimore police officers.

The scheme to divert cars damaged in traffic accidents to the body shop in return for payoffs resulted in one of the widest police corruption scandals in Baltimore history. This week, a 10th officer will be sentenced to prison, one of 14 officers who pleaded guilty to federal extortion charges. One trial ended in conviction, another officer pleaded guilty in state court and at least 14 suspended officers still face departmental discipline and possible state charges.

…The sheer number of officers involved stunned department veterans and civilians alike.

In the aftermath, Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III — who invited the F.B.I. to investigate the force — brought in Grayling G. Williams, the Department of Homeland Security’s former counternarcotics chief, to head the division charged with rooting out corruption…

Mr. Bealefeld, 49, who recently announced plans to retire in August after 31 years on the force, will almost certainly be remembered for reducing the city’s crime and murder rates as well as for his aggressive anticorruption efforts, including the Majestic case. He acknowledged that the corruption cases during his five years as commissioner had been trying, but said “it comes with the territory…”

When the time came last year to make arrests in the case, Mr. Bealefeld and federal agents lured the 17 officers facing federal charges to the police academy, where Mr. Bealefeld confronted them and stripped them of their badges before agents led them away in handcuffs. To ensure that future officers knew about it, he summoned two academy recruits to watch…

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, whose predecessor stepped down in a plea deal related to corruption, said the Majestic case had been a “double-edged sword,” revealing graft to prove that the city did not sweep it under the rug.

“I understand the risks in all of that,” she said, “but I know that in the long run, it’s the best thing for the city.”

It’s what you have to do. Hopefully, not too often.

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