- The Washington Times - Monday, July 23, 2012

A former Prince George’s County police officer was sentenced Monday to almost four years in prison for his role protecting shipments of untaxed cigarettes and alcohol, a scheme uncovered as part of a widespread federal investigation into what the sentencing judge called a “cesspool of corruption” in county government.

Richard Delabrer, a county police officer for 22 years, pleaded guilty last year to helping to ship millions of contraband cigarettes and alcohol from Virginia into Maryland to be sold at stores in the state or to others who moved the items as far as New York.

“It’s sad to be known as the bad cop, but that’s what you became,” U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte said during the sentencing at the federal courthouse in Greenbelt. “Your whole mission was to enforce the law and you turned your back on that.”

Delabrer initially acted as a go-between who coordinated sales of illegal liquor and cigarettes between an undercover FBI agent and a pair of liquor store owners, but he eventually began buying the items and selling them, according to his plea agreement. Prosecutors said the scheme, which ran from June 2009 to January 2010, cost the state and federal governments about $2.8 million in taxes.

“I always believed that you get out what you put in,” Delabrer said in an emotional speech before he was sentenced. “Somewhere along the line I took a shortcut that will always alter my life.”

While family and a large number of friends and police officers attended Delabrer’s initial hearings in court to offer their support, Delabrer requested that no one attend his sentencing, said his attorney James N. Papirmeister, who eventually had to take over reading Delabrer’s prepared statement after he was overcome with emotion.

In addition to his prison sentence of 46 months — handed down for both the conspiracy to commit extortion charge and a federal firearms violation — Delabrer will also be on supervised release for two years and was ordered to forfeit $183,000 and a property he owns in Greenbelt.

Delabrer, a father of four who comes from a family of Prince George’s police officers, was not under investigation for any criminal wrongdoing before this case and fell into the scheme amid a midlife crisis when he needed extra money, Mr. Papirmeister said.

“Rich did not go into this thinking there was anything illegal,” Mr. Papirmeister said of Delabrer’s first meeting with a friend who offered to introduce him to a moneymaking opportunity.

Delabrer and business owner Amir Milijkovic met with a government informant and an undercover FBI agent, who were described in court as playing the roles of a European businessman and an ex-Marine from Quantico, Va., to set up the transactions. They sold the cigarettes and alcohol to Amrik Singh Melhi, who owned Tick Tock Liquors where Delabrer worked part-time security, according to plea agreements in the cases. Cigarettes were also sold to restaurant owner Chun “Eddy” Chen and another county police officer, Chong Chin Kim, who prosecutors said then sold the cigarettes on the black market in New York.

Former County Executive Jack B. Johnson and wife, Leslie, were also arrested and sentenced to time in prison after wiretaps revealed Jack Johnson taking bribes from Melhi, among others.

Once Delabrer was entrenched in the plan, he put himself in a situation of actually having to protect the shipments if there was a robbery during transport or “further obstructing justice” by covering the transport up in the case police got involved, Assistant U.S. Attorney David A. Copperthite said.

“It degrades what we expect from people we put in positions of trust,” Mr. Copperthite said of Delabrer’s actions. “We have to show law enforcement that you can’t do this and walk away.”