More fallout possible from corrupt Baltimore task force case
The scandal revealed deep, widespread corruption, with officers admitting that they regularly robbed citizens and lied in official documents to cover their tracks
By Justin Fenton
The Baltimore Sun
BALTIMORE — A flurry of recent activity by federal authorities is suggesting there could be more fallout coming from the Baltimore Police Gun Trace Task Force case.
An ATF agent in California, who is a former Baltimore cop and once worked with the ringleader of the GTTF scandal, left his job in late September. That happened just days before a major federal gun case in which he was the lead investigator was abruptly dropped without explanation. When asked for comment, federal officials in California directed questions to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Baltimore.
Late Friday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Derek Hines, one of the prosecutors on the Gun Trace Task Force case, reactivated two federal cases involving the former officer, Matthew Ryckman.
In addition, a man serving jail time after being arrested by former GTTF Sgt. Wayne Jenkins said he was recently interviewed by federal authorities, being asked questions about other officers who were involved in his arrest.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maryland and the FBI field office declined to comment.
When reached for comment Sunday night, Ryckman said he was caught off guard by a reporter's questions, and was attending an event and wasn't able to immediately comment. Responding to a subsequent text message asking about the recent events, he asked to not be contacted again.
The series of moves comes as the final defendant charged in the Gun Trace Task Force corruption investigation pleaded guilty mid-trial on Thursday. In all, eight members of the Gun Trace Task Force, a former Baltimore and Philadelphia officer, and three additional associates of the officers were convicted in the case, receiving between seven and 25 years in prison. Two of the convicted officers have yet to be sentenced.
The scandal revealed deep, widespread corruption, with officers admitting that they regularly robbed citizens and lied in official documents to cover their tracks. Jenkins admitted to misconduct dating back to 2010, and a co-conspirator said Jenkins had been stealing drugs and selling them back on the street since 2012.
A slew of other officers were implicated in court proceedings as being involved in stealing, though many of the accusations dated back several years. Still, federal authorities said their investigation was continuing.
“To the extent that there’s facts and evidence that suggest there’s other misconduct … we will not rest, and follow the facts wherever they might lead,” U.S. Attorney for Maryland Robert Hur said Thursday.
Ryckman spent 10 years as a Baltimore cop, working with Jenkins in 2013 when Jenkins ran a Special Enforcement Squad. Ryckman worked on a Drug Enforcement Administration task force before joining the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Sacramento in 2016.
On Sept. 21, Ryckman brought a major case in the Eastern District of California: a five-month undercover investigation that led to charges against four people accused of being involved in selling dozens of custom-made AR-15-style assault rifles and pistols. Federal agents had used $130,000 in government funds and made 25 controlled purchases.
ATF spokeswoman Alexandria Corneiro confirmed that Ryckman left the ATF on Sept. 27. She would not say why.
Then, just two weeks after Ryckman’s case was filed, California prosecutors dropped all charges and released the suspects.
“I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and I’ve never seen them throw in the towel like this before, especially a case with a 67-page complaint, 25 undercover buys, and assault weapons,” said assistant federal public defender Matthew Bockmon, who represented the lead defendant.
Ryckman has not been accused of any crimes related to the Gun Trace Task Force scandal. His name was briefly mentioned during the January trial of two corrupt officers, when jurors heard convicted Det. Momodu Gondo mention him in a wiretapped phone call played by prosecutors.
Gondo told Det. Jemell Rayam in the Aug. 1, 2016 phone call that Jenkins had called him early that morning and that he had been hanging out with Ryckman.
“That boy, he was out late last night… He was out with um Ryckman. ... I talked to him at like 3 in the morning, they called me all drunk, rappin,” Gondo said in the call.
But Hines, one of the Gun Trace Task Force prosecutors, entered his appearance and filed sealed documents in two long-closed federal cases in which Ryckman and Jenkins were the arresting officers.
In one of the cases, Ryckman wrote in charging documents that police had recovered “approximately $300,000 to $400,000” in cash and several kilograms of heroin and cocaine. The man’s eventual plea agreement said police had found $652,000 in cash, and he has been serving a 10-year sentence.
The prosecutors have taken similar action before, reactivating a 2010 case involving Jenkins that led to new charges and the defendant’s conviction being vacated. In other cases, defendants’ sentences have been modified.
Meanwhile, Demetric Simon told The Sun that in late September the FBI picked him up from prison, where he has been serving a sentence on charges brought by Jenkins’ and his then-squad.
Simon was run down by Jenkins in 2014. In charging documents, Officer Benjamin Frieman wrote that Simon was fleeing on foot and pointed a gun at the officers, and that Jenkins ran into him with his vehicle. The statement of charges says that Jenkins later found a BB gun under a nearby vehicle. Simon was taken to a hospital for treatment, where hospital staff found drugs on him.
Simon said the BB gun was planted by Jenkins. At the Gun Trace Task Force trial, a cooperating officer testified that Jenkins advised his officers to carry toy guns to plant on people in case they got into a situation where they would need to justify their actions.
Simon said he was taken to the federal courthouse on Sept. 19 and was asked questions by a prosecutor as “about 30 people” looked on. He is not sure what type of proceeding it was.
“They wanted to know what was up with the other officer, was he aware,” Simon said in a phone interview from prison.
Frieman is now a sergeant in the Northern District. A phone message left for him was not returned.
In California, a defense attorney for one of the men charged in Ryckman’s case said prosecutors there wouldn’t explain why they were backing away from the case, but offered a clue.
“We were told we would hear about it” later, said Michael Hance.