Prince George's County officers' arrests linked to Johnson investigation
Police chief decries alleged misconduct
This story was updated Monday, Nov. 17, at 8:25 p.m.
The arrests Monday of three Prince George's County police officers are linked to the high-profile arrests of County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) and his wife, both cases part of a federal probe into widespread and ongoing corruption in the county that dates back four years, a spokeswoman for federal prosecutors confirmed.
Marcia Murphy, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Maryland, said Monday evening in an e-mail that "the investigations in these cases [involving the officers] and the Johnson case are related" as "part of a series of related corruption investigations," but said the office could not elaborate.
The three officers are among nine people slapped with federal charges Monday as the Federal Bureau of Investigation continues a spree of raids and arrests that started Friday with the arrest of Jack Johnson and his wife, County Councilwoman-elect Leslie E. Johnson (D).
Meanwhile, Police Chief Roberto Hylton said Monday he is outraged by the officers' alleged misconduct and said he promises to review policies for officers' off-duty shifts after one of the officers is charged with helping a store where he worked part time to help traffic cigarettes and liquor.
"I'm going to review our current policies. There are locations and places that our officers are being contracted to work ... that do not support the values of this community and this organization," Hylton said. "It's totally unacceptable. ... Officers will be prohibited from working at these establishments."
Police officers Sgt. Richard Delabrer, 45, of Laurel and Cpl. Chong Chin Kim, 42, of Beltsville were arrested at the county police department's Beltsville station Monday, accused of taking part in a scheme to move untaxed cigarettes and liquor across state lines and sell them in Maryland and Virginia, announced U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein.
Delabrer worked part-time security at Tick Tock Liquors, one of several liquor stores at the center of the investigation. Tick Tock Liquors in Hyattsville and Big Daddy Bar and Grill in Lanham were both raided Monday morning.
Five other people, including a husband and wife who operate multiple liquor stores across the region, also were arrested for their alleged role in the scheme.
In a separate indictment, the third county police officer, Sinisa Simic, 25, of Woodbridge, Va., and another Virginia man were charged with trafficking at least 500 grams of cocaine in Washington, D.C., and Maryland.
Neither prosecutors nor investigators would say whether the nine arrests and 11 raids that took place across the Washington, D.C., region today are directly connected to Friday's arrests of the Johnsons. Jack Johnson is accused of accepting cash in return for helping a developer secure federal funding and conspiring with his wife to destroy evidence as FBI agents knocked at the door of their Mitchellville home.
"Our interest in corruption in the county has been longstanding and long-reaching," said Richard A. McFeely, an FBI special agent, on Monday outside the federal courthouse in Greenbelt after initial appearances for the nine people indicted.
The indictment for the cigarette and liquor case charges that Tick Tock owner Amrik Singh Melhi, 51, of Clarksville, paid officers Delabrer and Kim to ensure the untaxed cigarettes and alcohol made it safely across Maryland and Virginia state lines where they were sold.
"Secondary employment has been around for quite some time," Hylton said. "[But] greed has taken over a lot of our employees."
County records indicate Delabrer, a 22-year veteran, and Kim, a 16-year veteran are both assigned to District 6. Simic, who is assigned to the District 2 station, has worked for the department for three years.
Maj. Andrew Ellis, a county police spokesman, said Simic had already been suspended twice before the current indictment. He was suspended with pay in July, although Ellis was not sure of the reason, and Simic wasn't yet back to work when he was suspended without pay in September after police in Virginia found narcotics in his car.
The others indicted in the cigarette and liquor case are Melhi's wife, Ravinder Kaur Melhi; the owner of an auto glass store in College Park, Amir Milijkovic, 39, of Bowie; Chun Chen aka Eddy Chen, 34, of Bowie; and Jose Moreno, 49, of Alexandria, Va.
Mirza Kujundzic, 30, of Woodbridge, Va., was also charged in this drug trafficking case.
All nine remain in custody after their initial court appearances Monday. They all have pre-trial hearings scheduled within the next several weeks to determine whether they will remain behind bars leading up to their trials.
Attorney Gabriel Christian, who is representing Ravinder Melhi, argued she should be released because she has to care for a young son. Federal prosecutors said they consider her a flight risk because she holds an Indian passport and frequently travels abroad.
"The government is able to speak at length about what she brought back from her travel," said Assistant U.S. Attorney James A. Crowell IV at the hearing.
Prosecutors are seeking the forfeiture of $3.5 million, 25 properties, 13 vehicles and 84 bank accounts that allegedly hold profits from the crimes or were used to facilitate the crimes. Of the 25 properties listed, 11 are in Prince George's County.
On Monday, agents from the FBI and the Treasury Department as well as county police were searching Tick Tock Liquors. No one at the store was available to comment.
Several other liquor stores and restaurants listed as properties that federal prosecutors are seeking the forfeiture of by the accused, remained open Monday with no sign of police or federal investigators.
Ajay Sharma, owner of Lee's Restaurant in West Hyattsville, said Melhi was his landlord, but was not affiliated with the business in any way.
"I pay him the rent, and that's pretty much it," Sharma said.
A.J. Singh, manager of Shop Rite Liquors in Takoma Park, said while he prepared to meet with a sales representative that his business was not affiliated with Tick Tock Liquors and he was not related to Melhi.
The federal indictment lists 11 locations in Prince George's County that were allegedly tied to the sale of untaxed liquor and cigarettes. Based on searches of local business listings, these are the seven businesses and four homes that prosecutors have asked to be forfeited:
- Big Daddy's Bar and Grill located at 9430 Annapolis Road, Lanham
- Tick Tock Liquors located at 1820 University Blvd., Hyattsville
- The Golden Bull restaurant located at 9107 Riggs Road, Adelphi
- Lee's Restaurant, located at 2903 Hamilton St, West Hyattsville
- New Carrollton Liquors, located at 8433 Annapolis Road, New Carrollton
- Orbit Beer and Wine, Lanham, located at 9900 Greenbelt Road, Suite J
- A shopping center at 6333-6337 New Hampshire Ave., Takoma Park
- An apartment at 9250 Edwards Way 605 C, Adelphi
- A home owned by Richard Delabrer at 8604 Ashcroft Drive, Laurel
- A home owned by Amir Miljkovic at 12405 Shawmont Lane, Bowie
- A home owned by Jin Zhang at 4402 Black Walnut Way, Bowie
Other businesses and homes outside Prince George's County are among those prosecutors have asked to be forfeited:
- Decker's Wine & Spirits, 401 Baltimore Pike, Bel Air
- Cut Rate Liquors, 4212 North Point Blvd, Dundalk
- Blue Bay Restaurant and Liquor store, 9425 Berry Road, Waldorf
- Fox Run Liquors, 617 Solomons Island Road, Prince Frederick
- Melhi Richmond Properties LLC, 2013 Walmart Way, Midlothian, Va.
- Old Dominion LLC (out of business), 6205 Old Keene Mill, Springfield, Va.
- A store in a business park at 6656 Dobbin Court, Columbia
- A store in a business park at 7609 Energy Pkwy, Baltimore
- A store in a business park at 508 Digiulian Blvd., Glen Burnie
- A store in Pasadena Plaza Shopping Center, 8125 Ritchie Highway, Pasadena
- A home owned by Ravinder and Amrik Melhi at 13516 Narrow Leaf Court, Clarksville
- A home owned by Amrik Singh at 4711 Coralberry Court, Aberdeen
- A home owned by Ravinder Melhi at 6920 Sandy Creek, Clarksville
- A property listed to Aulakh Ravinder, MD, at 725 Gouldman Lane, Great Falls, Va.