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April 14, 2010

Baltimore police detective pleads guilty to theft

A Baltimore police detective assigned to a federal Drug Enforcement Administration task force pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court on Tuesday to stealing money from his bosses.

The government alleged a unique crime here -- that Mark J. Lunsford of Sykesville over-hyped the work of an informant so the DEA would pay him bigger bonuses, from which Lunsford took a cut. Lunsford used the informant's name on a drug in which he was not involved.

As part of his guilty plea, the detective has to resign from the city police department. The Maryland U.S. Attorney's Office prosecuted him.


Corruption Case is Result of Three-Month Undercover Investigation

Mark J. Lunsford, age 40, of Sykesville, Maryland, pleaded guilty today to stealing Baltimore City Police Department funds, submitting a false claim to DEA for an informant award and stealing a diamond watch that came into his custody as a DEA Task Force officer.
The guilty plea was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein and Special Agent in Charge Richard A. McFeely of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. “Officer Lunsford committed an egregious breach of trust, but it should be noted that thousands of honorable police officers who work to promote public safety and confidence share our dismay when a law enforcement officer violates that trust,”  said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein.

According to Lunsford’s plea agreement, Lunsford, a Baltimore City Police Department (BCPD) detective and DEA Task Force Officer (TFO), began handling a DEA confidential human source (CHS) in around 2007. Lunsford also opened the source as an officially designated source of the BCPD. 

Lunsford admitted that in 2008, he provided false information to other law enforcement personnel indicating that the CHS had provided him with a telephone number being used by Suspect-1.  Although the CHS had been involved earlier in the investigation that ultimately led to the prosecution of Suspect-1, the CHS did not know Suspect-1 and did not have Suspect-1's telephone number; another informant provided Suspect-1's telephone number to Lunsford. Based on Lunsford’s information, an affidavit was provided to a state court judge in support of an application for a wiretap of Suspect 1's telephone, which was granted.  That investigation eventually resulted in the federal prosecution of Suspect-1 and several other individuals for drug and related charges.

At the conclusion of the wiretap investigation, Lunsford arranged for the CHS to receive a $10,000 cash award using funds provided by the BCPD. In order to obtain this cash award, Lunsford fraudulently exaggerated the CHS’ involvement in the Suspect-1 investigation, including falsely reiterating that the CHS had provided Lunsford with Suspect-1's telephone number, thereby enabling the investigators to obtain a wiretap on that phone.

The $10,000 cash award was to be paid in monthly installments of $1,000. Instead of giving the CHS all $10,000, Lunsford kept a portion of the award funds for himself with the CHS’ consent. On July 10, 2009, Lunsford told the CHS that he had the last installment to provide to the CHS. That same day, the CHS, who was cooperating with investigators, recorded an in-person meeting with Lunsford during which Lunsford gave the CHS $500 in cash and kept $500 for himself.  Indeed, in a recorded conversation that took place between Lunsford and the CHS a few days earlier, the CHS asked Lunsford: “Me and you are the only ones that know we split that ten grand, right?”

Lunsford answered, “Oh yeah, nobody knows.”  Later in the conversation, Lunsford reiterated, “Don’t nobody know nothin’ about that money...but me and you.”

In a July 14, 2009 meeting between Lunsford and the CHS that was recorded by the CHS, Lunsford showed the CHS a photo of Suspect-2 and briefed the CHS on the case Lunsford was currently working on Suspect-2. The CHS had never met Suspect-2. During the meeting, Lunsford told the CHS that he had a real informant working the Suspect-2 case for him, and that Lunsford hoped to seize all of Suspect-2's assets when he arrested him.

Lunsford explained that he intended to credit the CHS with providing the information leading to Suspect-2's arrest and the subsequent seizure of Suspect-2's money and assets. Lunsford explained, “If I get him when he comes back from New York, you know, it’s thirty grand or forty grand to [expletive] buy the kilo, you know, or maybe a lot more than that but anything he’s got in that [expletive], I’m jammin’ this [expletive] toad up, man. [Expletive] it. ‘Cause that counts as money. That counts as you [expletive] givin’ me [expletive] and they got these [expletive] assets; therefore, I can get money off of that.”

When the CHS asked, “And nobody else, you know, it’ll just be our case?,” Lunsford answered, “Ain’t nobody on this [expletive] [expletive].”  Lunsford said the CHS would then be able to receive a payment based on Lunsford's representation of the CHS' involvement in the case.  On August 2, 2009, Lunsford arrested Suspect-2 and on August 18, 2009, Lunsford requested that DEA provide an award to the CHS of 20 percent of the seized funds (which would be approximately $3,498).  In the section of the form in which Lunsford provided the justification for the award, Lunsford falsely wrote that the CHS had provided intelligence that resulted in the execution of the search and seizure warrant in the Suspect-2 case.

On September 9, a DEA supervisor who was cooperating with the investigation made a monitored telephone call to Lunsford, during which Lunsford falsely stated that the CHS had helped with the case.  On September 21, as part of the FBI undercover investigation, DEA gave Lunsford a check for $3,498 payable to the CHS.

Lunsford told the CHS that he would give the check to the CHS in the presence of a DEA agent, and that Lunsford and the CHS would divide the proceeds later.  Lunsford met with the CHS and gave the CHS the check at 10:00 a.m. on September 22, in the presence of a DEA agent.  At 3:45 pm on September 22, Lunsford again met with the CHS and at the direction of the FBI, the CHS gave Lunsford $1,700 in cash (in 17 pre-recorded $100 bills).  Those 17 pre-recorded bills were recovered in Lunsford’s home when a search warrant was executed there on September 23, 2009.
On June 16, 2009, the CHS provided the FBI with a high-end diamond watch, which Lunsford had obtained in the course of his duties as a TFO. The watch was a rose-colored, stainless steel "AQUA MASTER" diamond watch, hereafter referred to as "Watch-1". Watch-1 belonged to Suspect-3.  On June 17, 2009, a jeweler appraised Watch-1 at approximately $18,000 (retail) and $4,200 (liquidation). In a conversation between Lunsford and the CHS recorded on July 1, 2009, Lunsford discussed the sale of Watch-1 with the CHS.  Lunsford told the CHS that Watch-1 belonged to Suspect-3, who Lunsford said had “just pled out to nineteen years federal.” 

On July 14, 2009, the CHS recorded an in-person meeting with Lunsford, during which the CHS gave Lunsford $1500 in currency that belonged to the FBI, which the CHS told Lunsford was half of the proceeds of the sale of Watch-1.  In reality, CHS had not sold Watch-1, but had turned Watch-1 over to the FBI.  After receiving the $1,500 from the CHS, Lunsford said, “and [expletive] it.  It’s beautiful.”  The CHS said, “we took fifteen hundred each. [Expletive] it,” and Lunsford answered, “Free [expletive] money.”

 According to Lunsford’s plea agreement, Lunsford stole other items, including a stainless steel "FREEZE" diamond watch, which Lunsford told the CHS he had taken during the arrest/search of Suspect-2. A jeweler subsequently appraised the retail value of the watch at $3,750, with a liquidation value of $950. In addition, a Breitling watch was found in Lunsford’s bedroom closet during the execution of a search warrant, which belonged to Suspect-4, who was arrested by other DEA agents and TFOs on April 28, 2009, in Baltimore City. On June 16, 2009, the CHS provided the FBI with items of clothing that Lunsford had given to the CHS as gifts. These clothes belonged either to Suspect-4 or to Suspect-5, who was also arrested by DEA agents and TFOs on April 28, 2009.  Both Suspect-4 and Suspect-5 are being federally prosecuted.

Lunsford also admitted that he filed false investigative and incident reports, and an affidavit in support of a criminal complaint indicating that the CHS had provided information on five separate defendants, when in fact, the CHS had provided no such information. In the case of the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint, after reviewing Lunsford’s affidavit, a United States Magistrate Judge signed the complaint charging Suspect-7 with a firearms offense.

Suspect-7 subsequently was indicted on the charge of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and pled guilty to that offense and was awaiting sentencing when Lunsford was arrested.  As a result of Lunsford’s misconduct, Suspect-7 was allowed to plead guilty to a less serious offense, and was sentenced to 48 months in prison.

As part of his plea agreement, Lunsford agreed to the forfeiture of $46,600 seized during the execution of a search warrant at his home on September 23, 2009. In addition, Lunsford is required to resign from the BCPD no later than 30 days after the Court accepts his guilty plea.

Lunsford faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for theft concerning programs receiving federal funds and  theft of property by an officer or employee of the United States and five years in prison for submitting a false claim.  U.S. District Judge William M. Nickerson has scheduled sentencing for June 30, 2010 at 9:30 a.m.

United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein thanked the Drug Enforcement Administration and its Office of Professional Responsibility for their assistance in the investigation.  Mr. Rosenstein commended Assistant United States Attorney Jonathan Biran and First Assistant United States Attorney Stuart M. Goldberg, who are prosecuting the case.

Posted by Peter Hermann at 7:06 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Confronting crime, Courts and the justice system

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About Peter Hermann
Peter Hermann started covering news for The Baltimore Sun in 1990, first in Anne Arundel County and, starting in 1994, reporting on the Baltimore Police Department. In 2001, he was assigned to Jerusalem as the Baltimore Sun's Middle East correspondent. He returned in 2005 as an assistant city editor overseeing crime coverage. In 2008, Peter returned to the beat as a daily reporter and blogger. A recent BBC report featured him in a segment on the harsh realities of covering crime in Baltimore.

Coverage will focus on crime trends, problems in neighborhoods in the city and elsewhere, profiles of victims and police officers and try to offer readers a fresh perspective on one of the most vexing issues facing Baltimore and its future.

Contributing to this blog is Justin Fenton, who joined The Sun in 2005 and has covered the Baltimore City Police Department and the criminal justice system since 2008. His work includes an investigation into Cal Ripken Jr.’s minor league baseball stadium deal with his hometown of Aberdeen, a three-part series chronicling a ruthless con woman, coverage of the killing of five Amish children at a schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pa., and a job swap with a British crime reporter to explore differences in crime-fighting. A special report looking into how city police handle rape cases led to sweeping reforms that changed the way sexual assaults are investigated in Baltimore. He was recognized as the best reporter in Baltimore by the City Paper in 2010 and by Baltimore Magazine in 2011.

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