Kelvin Manrich, the last of 15 Baltimore police officers convicted of taking thousands of dollars in kickbacks from a Rosedale auto repair shop, was sentenced to 41 months in federal prison Friday, ending the prosecution phase of one of the worst scandals in department history.
The city is still feeling the repercussions at a time when the Police Department is in transition. CommissionerFrederick H. Bealefeld IIIretired at the end of last month after five years in the post and a successor has yet to be named.
The scheme, which implicated roughly 60 officers, according to trial testimony, diminished trust in Baltimore police, authorities said. Some law-abiding officers are so appalled by the scandal that they're embarrassed to say where they work, according to the city's Fraternal Order of Police.
"The challenge for the Police Department is how to use this as a turning point to prevent any officers from going down this road in the future," saidRod J. Rosenstein, the U.S. attorney for Maryland.
It would be a mistake, he said, to rely on the criminal prosecution as a "tool to change the culture of an organization." That should come from within the department and will largely depend upon the new commissioner, Rosenstein said, and whether he or she "continues to send a firm message from the top that officers are expected to conduct themselves appropriately."
Bealefeld made it a mission to uncover corruption within the force and initiated the investigation into the kickbacks scheme, which began on his watch in 2008 and continued for several years.
A federal indictment in February 2011 shut down the operation, which involved officers steering accident victims to Majestic Auto Repair in Rosedale in exchange for cash payments. Some officers falsified police reports, looked the other way when Majestic increased vehicle damage to boost insurance payout and brought in their own cars for fraudulent claims, according to court records.
Fourteen officers were suspended and disciplined internally in the case, while seventeen others were charged in federal court — one was later dropped as a defendant and another wound up pleading guilty to theft in state court. The 15 officers convicted in federal court received prison terms that ranged from eight to 42 months in length, with the average sentence being just under 22 months.
Through a spokesman, acting Police Commissioner Anthony Barksdale, a candidate to replace Bealefeld, said he's looking forward to closing "an embarrassing chapter for the department" and is glad the officers involved "were held accountable for their actions."
Still to be dealt with, however, is the "violation of trust," he said, vowing to continue a "relentless focus on rooting out corruption in the Baltimore Police Department."
The city has spent millions of dollars to settle police misconduct lawsuits in the past few years, and several officers have been accused of crimes unrelated to the kickbacks case.
In the past year, one Baltimore officer was sentenced to 15 years in state prison for killing a man during a drunken bar brawl, another pleaded guilty to federal charges of participating in a heroin conspiracy, and a third was forced to resign after being charged with stealing groceries.
This week, an officer accused of recording a phone conversation with a judge and playing it for others was charged with a felony.
In a 15-page "Blueprint for Improving Policing," issued last month, Baltimore's police union blamed the kickbacks scandal on lax hiring practices. "The BPD must improve the quality of its background investigations and must no longer accept marginal candidates," the document says.
Robert F. Cherry, president of the city's Fraternal Order of Police, declined to comment Friday.
Manrich's brother, Heman Narain, said in court Friday that money was tight for Manrich, who was struggling to pay child support for two children he has with his former wife and to support another child with his present wife.
Manrich, 43, pleaded guilty in February, after five days of trial in which witnesses said he falsified police reports to accommodate a woman trying to defraud her insurance company and allowed a drunken man to walk away from an accident and into a liquor store.
He addressed the court briefly Friday before his sentence was handed down, apologizing to the judge, the prosecution and his family.
"I've lost my job, I've lost a career. I've lost my apartment. The only thing I have is my wife and kids," he said, asking for mercy.
U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake sentenced him to 41 months in federal prison — the second-longest term in the case. He also was ordered to pay the Police Department $5,000 in restitution and $5,700 to Geico auto insurance.
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