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1 officer convicted, 1 pleads guilty in towing scandal

Baltimore Police Officer Samuel Ocasio was convicted Thursday for his part in a wide-ranging towing scheme in the city that could land him behind bars for 25 years.

Ocasio, 36, of Edgewood, was convicted by a jury in U.S. District Court in Baltimore of conspiracy to commit extortion and committing extortion under color of official right.

Officer Kelvin Quade Manrich, 42, Ocasio’s co-defendant, pleaded guilty Thursday. Manrich, 42, of Middle River, pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy and extortion after five days of trial.

“Working as a law enforcement officer is a commitment and not just a job, which is why it requires a sworn oath,” said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein, in a statement. “A police officer who takes a payment from a private citizen in connection with public duties crosses a bright line from which there is no return.”

In all, 17 officers and the two brothers who own Majestic Auto Repair Shop LLC were charged as a result of a joint investigation by Baltimore police and federal agents. Under the scheme, officers arranged for Majestic to tow vehicles from accident scenes even though the company was not contracted by the city to do so.

According to court records, the officer would contact Majestic co-owner Hernan Alexis Moreno Mejia when the officer arrived at an accident and give Moreno information about the vehicle, such as the extent of damage and what type of insurance the driver had.

The officer would tell the driver that Majestic could tow and repair the car, as well as help with the insurance claim and waive the deductible, according to the affidavit. The driver was also told not to call the insurance company until after talking to Moreno.

After the vehicle was towed, the officer would write in the accident report that the driver arranged for his or her own tow or leave that portion of the report blank. Majestic would then submit a claim to the driver’s insurance company for repairs allegedly made.

In return for doing this, Majestic paid the officers approximately $300 per referral, with one officer taking in more than $14,000 over nine months starting in January 2009.

Twelve Baltimore police officers have pleaded guilty to participating in the extortion scheme in federal court and one pleaded guilty in state court. The brothers who owned the tow company pleaded guilty last year to extortion conspiracy and are awaiting sentencing.

U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake has scheduled sentencing for Ocasio on June 1 and Manrich on May 25.