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Baltimore police commissioner charged with failure to file federal taxes

Mayor Catherine Pugh listens as new Baltimore police commissioner Darryl DeSousa makes remarks at City Hall during a news conference, Friday, Jan. 19, 2018 in Baltimore. Following a record year in homicides, Pugh fired Kevin Davis' the city's police commissioner, saying a change in leadership was needed to reduce crime more quickly. (Kim Hairston/The Baltimore Sun via AP)

Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa (Kim Hairston/The Baltimore Sun via AP)

Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa has been charged with three counts of failing to file federal taxes, according to court documents unsealed Thursday.

Charging documents allege De Sousa was a resident of Baltimore and salaried employee of the department in 2013, 2014 and 2015 but “willfully” did not file income tax returns.

The charges each carry a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $25,000 fine.

De Sousa, 53, a 30-year veteran of the department, became interim commissioner in January after Mayor Catherine Pugh fired Kevin Davis. The interim tag was removed a month later.

De Sousa, in a statement Thursday, admitted to failing to file his state and federal returns between 2013 and 2015 but said he did for 2016 and requested an extension for 2017.

“I have been working to satisfy the filing requirements and, to that end, have been working with a registered tax advisor,” he said.

De Sousa added he paid federal, state and local taxes through salary withholding but “failed to sufficiently prioritize” his private affairs.

“Naturally, this is a source of embarrassment for me and I deeply regret any embarrassment it has caused the Police Department and the City of Baltimore,” he said. “I accept full responsibility for this mistake and am committed to resolving this situation as quickly as possible.”

Eric Bielitz, a Baltimore tax attorney, said federal prosecutions for failure to file income tax returns are rare and De Sousa’s position likely contributed to the decision to pursue criminal charges.

“A high-profile person, that is certainly going to be something that will make a civil offense more likely to be referred to the Justice Department for prosecution,” said Bielitz, of S.H. Block Tax Services.

Former federal prosecutor Steven H. Levin agreed, adding the potential losses for the government likely led to criminal charges as opposed to civil penalties.

Court filings do not state how much money De Sousa owes.

“When you have a public figure like the police commissioner who fails to file three years in a row and he owes money, that would justify a prosecution,” said Levin, of Levin & Curlett LLC in Baltimore.

Asking about tax returns is a common question in background checks, Levin added, but it was not immediately clear if the office of Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh made those inquiries before appointing De Sousa to the position.

“If they’re not standard questions, then they certainly should be going forward,” he said. “That’s why you do a background check, so you don’t have this kind of thing happen.”

A spokesman for Pugh told The Baltimore Sun on Thursday that De Sousa retains her confidence and she has not asked him to resign.

De Sousa’s case is being prosecuted by the same assistant U.S. attorneys handling the Gun Trace Task Force prosecutions.

De Sousa was charged by criminal information Tuesday. In a motion to seal the information, prosecutors indicated there was an ongoing investigation that disclosure of the charges could compromise, “including causing the destruction of evidence and potential witness tampering.”

Prosecutors filed a motion to unseal the charges Thursday without any additional information.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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