Friday, September 25, 2009

Officer Mark Lunsford Charged with Stealing Money & Jewelry

A Baltimore police officer assigned to a federal drug task force was arrested by the FBI and charged Thursday with stealing money and jewelry from houses hit on drug raids and with embezzling from funds used to pay confidential informants, according to the Maryland U.S. attorney's office.

Officer Mark J. Lunsford, 40, who has been on the force for six years, was placed by a federal judge on home detention with electronic monitoring during an appearance in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. He had been assigned to Baltimore's Drug Enforcement Administration, which conducts high-end narcotics investigations.

"These allegations represent an egregious abuse of trust," Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said in an interview. FBI agents arrested the officer Wednesday night after he left work. He was charged with making a false claim, making a false statement and embezzlement.

Anthony Guglielmi, a spokesman for the Baltimore Police Department, said Lunsford is being suspended without pay. "The department doesn't tolerate any behavior that undermines the integrity of the agency or the hard work of our police officers," he said.

Neither Lunsford, who earned $97,196 with overtime in fiscal 2008, nor his attorney could be reached for comment.

Authorities said a confidential informant used by the DEA and city police tipped them off to the allegations. One of the items stolen from a drug raid at a hotel room, according to court documents filed Thursday, was a stainless steel Aqua Master diamond watch that retails for $18,000. The source told the FBI that Lunsford ordered him to "repair the watch and sell it and share the proceeds with him," according to the affidavit. The watch was sold for about $4,200 in New York.

The court documents describe the informant as unreliable because of his "inability to follow instructions and candor issues." The FBI dropped him as an informant, but court papers said the DEA and Baltimore police continued to use him for information.

After the informant came forward to FBI agents, prosecutors said in court documents, they secretly recorded conversations between Lunsford and the informant.

The affidavit alleges that Lunsford listed the informant on drug cases that the informant hadn't worked and would then tell his superiors that the informant deserved bonuses. In one case, he falsely linked the informant to a secret wiretap on a drug case "in the county" and then got the informant a $10,000 bonus from the DEA, according to prosecutors.

The prosecutors said Lunsford then split the money with the informant.

On July 1, the FBI said, agents caught Lunsford meeting with the informant outside a federal office in Elkridge and discussing a drug case: "I put in there that you gave me the information about ah ... what's the guy's name? That's that [expletive] house we're gonna hit. Who knows? We might get lucky," Lunsford told the informant, according to the court documents.

During that same conversation, prosecutors said, Lunsford told the informant "that he stole three [PlayStation] video games from the residence of a person [federal agents] had interviewed," according to court documents.

Lunsford then told the informant, "Me and you are the only ones that know we split that ten grand, right?" the documents say. The informant answered, "Oh yea, nobody knows."

Later, authorities said, Lunsford arrested a man during a raid and seized $17,490. Prosecutors said Lunsford put the informant, who had nothing to do with the case, in for a 20 percent bonus.

According to prosecutors, Lunsford wrote that "without the valuable intelligence provided by the [informant], the [suspect] would not have been arrested." Prosecutors said, "As Lunsford well knew at the time he submitted the claim for an award to DEA, the [informant] had provided no intelligence to him."

Prosecutors said the DEA allowed the informant to receive a $3,498 bonus and cut a U.S. Treasury check to the informant. The informant cashed the check and handed the money back to a DEA supervisor, who gave the informant marked $100 bills. Prosecutors said the informant then met with Lunsford to give him his share of the bonus in a parking lot in Sykesville. The FBI said agents had that meeting under surveillance.

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