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A criminal complaint was filed Feb. 23 charging 17 Baltimore city police officers and two brothers who own a body shop with conspiring to commit extortion in connection with a scheme in which the brothers paid police officers to arrange for their company, rather than a city-authorized company, to tow vehicles from accident scenes and make repairs.
Among the defendants charged are brothers Hernan Alexis Moreno Mejia and Edwin Javier Mejia, who own Majestic Auto Repair Shop LLC in Rosedale, Md. The Baltimore Police Department requires that when police request vehicle towing services, they only use towing companies that are under contract with the City of Baltimore to provide towing services for the BPD, and Majestic is not an authorized towing company for the city.
According to the affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, the general pattern of the extortion scheme allegedly consisted of the following: from January 2009 to the present, the BPD officers were either dispatched by the police department to the scene of an accident, or otherwise showed up at the scene. Shortly after arriving at the scene, the BPD officer would call Hernan Meija and provide the shop with details about the accident and the damage to the vehicle. The BPD officer would then allegedly inform the vehicle owner that Majestic could tow the car, provide auto repair services, help with the insurance claim, assist in getting a rental car and waive the deductible. The BPD officer allegedly would further direct the owner not to call the insurance company until after speaking with Hernan.
The affidavit further alleges that a Majestic truck, or a truck from another towing company used by Majestic, would then arrive at the scene and tow the vehicle to Majestic, even if the vehicle wasn’t actually disabled. In some instances, the vehicle was driven to Majestic by Hernan Meija or the owner. The complaint alleges that the BPD officer would falsely state in his police report, if one was prepared, that the vehicle owners arranged for their own tow, or the BPD officer would intentionally leave the box blank in the report as to towing or vehicle removal method.
A claim was then submitted to the insurance company for payment for repairs allegedly made by Majestic to the towed vehicle. If the car stayed at Majestic, Hernan Meija and the BPD officer would later arrange to meet so that Hernan could pay the BPD officer in cash or check for steering the car owner to Majestic for towing and repair services.
According to the affidavit, the defendant police officers received approximately $300 for each vehicle they steered to Majestic, and, during the two-year scheme, officers received payments totaling from $300 to more than $14,400.
"The criminal complaint alleges that the officers were secretly working for a private auto repair business when they were supposed to be working for the police department and the citizens of Baltimore," said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein. "Police officers cross a bright line when they take payments from private citizens in connection with their official duties."