In a federal courtroom this morning, former Baltimore Police Department Commissioner Darryl De Sousa pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor counts related to not paying his federal taxes.
De Sousa said very little as Judge Catherine Blake read through his plea agreement. He answered all of her questions with a “yes ma’am” or “yes, your honor,” confirming that he understood his plea.
He sounded contrite, disappointed with himself, a lot like how he sounded back in February during the city council hearings to confirm him. There, he apologized for police corruption scandals such as the Gun Trace Task Force and promised some newfound transparency and integrity in the department—he was the straight and narrow BPD veteran who knew the department, and could turn it around.
“There has been not sufficient checks and balances within the police department to catch corruption,” De Sousa told council that February night. “There has been a pathway for corrupt officers to navigate themselves through the system. Please be assured that I am working on these processes to address it.”
“We’re not assured,” somebody attending the hearing yelled back at De Sousa, who paused for a moment and then returned to his talking points about how he wanted to “rebuild trust” with the community.
Many attended the hearing that night to call attention to elements of De Sousa’s police past. Namely, a February 1995 incident in which De Sousa, while on duty, shot and killed Garrett “Scooter” Jackson because De Sousa said he had a gun and was “acting suspicious,” and the December 1995 killings of prison escapee George Thomas Jr. and Melvin James, a bystander shot in the forehead by De Sousa and two others officers during the shootout with Thomas Jr. Rumors of a sexual misconduct scandal also swirled around De Sousa at that time.
Still, every member of council approved De Sousa except for Ryan Dorsey, who voted “no” because De Sousa would not answer many substantive questions about his past and how he would police.
On May 10, less than three months after council approved De Sousa, he was federally charged with three misdemeanor counts related to failing to file his taxes in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
Briefly, Mayor Catherine Pugh vowed to support De Sousa, but then she suspended him, and soon after, De Sousa resigned. At the time, many in the city saw the charges as unfair or irrelevant—there was even a planned rally in support of De Sousa—while others saw the charges as foreboding, the GTTF police corruption scandal threatening to swallow up even more cops. Some observed that the same federal prosecutors who indicted GTTF were involved in charging De Sousa, and that De Sousa had numerous leadership positions in the Northeastern District (cops nicknamed him “Zeus”) at the same time that GTTF Sgt. Wayne Jenkins and other compromised officers worked there.
When he was charged, De Sousa released a statement apologizing to the city and BPD.
“While there is no excuse for my failure to fulfill my obligations as a citizen and public official, my only explanation is that I failed to sufficiently prioritize my personal affairs,” De Sousa’s statement read in part. “Naturally, this is a source of embarrassment for me and I deeply regret any embarrassment it has caused the Police Department and City of Baltimore.”
Details in De Sousa’s plea agreement today revealed that the extent of his tax issues go beyond a simple failure to file for three years.
In June 1999, he falsely claimed nine allowances. Between 2008-2012, he falsely claimed deductions for unreimbursed expenses, mortgage interest, local property and business losses. During that time, the agreement explained, “he did not have a mortgage or own any real property and… did not operate any businesses.” In 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011, De Sousa falsely claimed he donated $10,357, $5,000, $7,815 and $9,289 to charity. In 2010, BPD withheld $3,249 in wages from De Sousa to pay back state taxes.
The IRS sent De Sousa a warning letter on Nov. 16, 2015 highlighting the false claims on his taxes. De Sousa ignored the letter. Then on Dec. 2, 2015, the IRS sent a “lock-in letter” to De Sousa and the Baltimore Police Department that prevented him from decreasing his withholdings without IRS approval. It was at this point that the BPD began withholding even more money from De Sousa’s paycheck.
By May 5, 2018, days before he was charged, he still had not filed for 2013, 2014, and 2015 and was aware that the IRS knew.
In total state and federal taxes, De Sousa owed $67,587.72. As of today, he still owes $60,645.11.
That BPD knew about De Sousa’s tax issues years before he became commissioner shocked councilperson Dorsey.
“Court filings have now indicated that De Sousa’s problem was very serious and went back almost 20 years. More importantly, these issues were in fact well known to the Baltimore Police Department,” Dorsey said. “By any reasonable calculation, this is information that should have come to light during a nomination and confirmation process, and would have obviously disqualified De Sousa as a candidate.”
And Dorsey connected this De Sousa plea to growing concerns by the council about Mayor Pugh’s recommendation for the next BPD commissioner, Joel Fitzgerald, another nominee who has not been fully vetted. So far, the council has seen Fitzgerald’s resume and a heavily redacted background check, and heard directly from Fitzgerald, who expressed frustration by the intensity of the vetting.
“The lack of transparency and thoroughness in the De Sousa confirmation process has resulted in another year of rudderless leadership at a critical time for the department and our city,” Dorsey said. “With the administration digging its heels in on Fitzgerald, refusing to share requested and available information, we’re again being set up for failure.”
If Fitzgerald is approved, he will be Baltimore’s 10th police commissioner since 2000.
De Sousa’s sentencing is scheduled for March 29, 2019, at 9:15 a.m. He faces up to a year in jail and $25,000 in fines for each of the three years for which he was charged.
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