14 Prince George’s officers indicted in theft scheme
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14 Prince George’s officers indicted in theft scheme

Fourteen Prince George’s County police officers were indicted by a grand jury Thursday in what prosecutors allege was an elaborate double-dipping scheme to make money as private security officers while on the clock for their regular department shifts.

The officers, 13 who remain on the force and one who is retired, had their police powers suspended in April 2021, Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy and Police Chief Malik Aziz announced during a news conference.

“Public safety cannot operate without integrity,” Braveboy said. “The badge has to mean something.”

The men are accused of exploiting a Prince George’s County Police Department program known as secondary employment, which allows officers to earn additional income working private security. Often, officers working secondary employment provide security at apartment complexes, concerts, liquor stores, nightclubs or sporting events. The program allows officers to use their county-issued uniform, badge, gun and cruiser.

Under department rules in place at the time of the alleged misconduct — from January 2019 to March 2021 — officers were allowed to find secondary work themselves or become an employee of a private security firm that brokered the jobs for them. All secondary work was supposed to be approved through the department and performed during off-duty hours.

But that didn’t occur in the case of the 14 officers indicted, prosecutors alleged. The officers were identified as: Cpl. Nick Agapov, Cpl. Jonathan Haskett, Cpl. Matthew Obordo, Cpl. Matthew Cotillo, Cpl. Joshua Hitchens, Cpl. Chris Hall, Cpl. Michael O’Connell, Cpl. Travis Popielarcheck, Cpl. Kyle Cook, Cpl. Anthony Brooke, Cpl. Brandon Farley, Officer Christopher Oliver, Officer John Mcintosh and retired Cpl. James Lubonski.

These officers, prosecutors say, worked private security shifts at the same time as their on-duty department work, then concealed the overlap from the police department. Officials said at the news conference that the officers all worked for a fellow Prince George’s County officer, who owned a private security company and recently pleaded guilty to tax evasion charges related to his business.

That officer was Edward “Scott” Finn, according to two people with knowledge of the investigation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing probe. Finn, a now-retired police lieutenant, employed his colleagues through his company, Edward Finn Inc., which provided security services to more than 20 apartment complexes in the county.

Prosecutors and officials allege that the officers who worked for Finn provided false information, including about arrests, to the apartment complexes to justify their private security services.

“This is truly a disheartening day for the men and women who represent the very best of the Prince George’s County Police Department,” Aziz said.

The chief called the allegations against the officers “deeply troubling” but said they, like all citizens, deserve due process under the law. If found guilty, Aziz said their actions will “not only tarnish the badge we all wear proudly, but erode the community’s trust.”

The criminal case involving the 14 officers stemmed from an internal affairs investigation conducted by the police department. A tip about possible secondary employment misconduct was brought to the department in February 2021, police officials said, amid the federal probe into Finn’s finances.

After an “extensive investigation” by internal affairs, the chief said, the case was sent to the State’s Attorney’s Office.

The police chief said the officers accused in the alleged scheme were reassigned to desk jobs in the Bureau of Patrol in Landover and Westphalia.

In July 2021, the department also began implementing changes to its internal policies related to secondary employment, Aziz said, because the misconduct was in part enabled by “failure in a system.” He said his leadership team held meetings with officers throughout the department, including representatives from the police union, and modeled the new secondary employment rules after policies at other major agencies.

Those changes included purchasing new software to manage secondary employment that requires officers to clock in and out. Department employees are no longer allowed to run their own private security firms and broker business between officers and commercial businesses for personal gain. Site inspections are now conducted by internal affairs at all locations where officers are providing private security, and those officers’ time sheets are being audited.

It is not clear whether Finn was aware of his employees’ actions.

Former Prince George’s police officer pleads guilty to tax evasion

Finn’s legacy in the department was complex from the onset of his career in Prince George’s. He was awarded the department’s medal of valor at least three times. But he was also accused of lying and repeatedly using excessive force, incidents that were reported on by The Washington Post in stories from the early 2000s. Finn was cleared by a panel of his peers in those cases, according to Post reporting, and went on to receive raises and promotions.

In his federal case, Finn admitted that he failed to disclose $1.1 million in taxable income from his private security business over a six-year span. Finn, who had been with the police department for 25 years at the time of his arrest, was initially indicted on five counts of tax evasion and one count of obstructing justice. Prosecutors accused him of deleting incriminating data from his cellphone when federal agents arrived at his home with a search warrant.

Finn is scheduled to be sentenced in U.S. District Court in Maryland on Oct. 7. An attorney for Finn did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The 14 officers were indicted on various charges including misconduct in office and felony and misdemeanor theft scheme.

Hall, reached by phone Thursday afternoon, declined to comment. The Post left messages at phone numbers listed by a public records research service for Agapov, Haskett, Obordo, Cotillo, Hitchens, Cook, Farley, Mcintosh and Lubonski. The Post could not immediately find working numbers associated with O’Connell, Popielarcheck, Brooke or Oliver.

In a statement, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 89, the union representing Prince George’s County officers, said they were “shocked” to hear of the indictments amid what they called a wave of “politically-motivated prosecutions” of officers by the State’s Attorney’s Office. The union said it will evaluate the case further as more information about the allegations becomes public. For now, their statement said, the union is focused on providing legal counsel for the officers.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md-va/2022/08/25/prince-georges-police-officers-indicted/