- The Washington Times - Monday, November 15, 2010

The shadow of corruption over Prince George’s County government widened Monday with indictments against two county police officers and others on charges of trafficking bootleg cigarettes and alcohol, just days after County Executive Jack B. Johnson’s arrest on charges of trying to conceal tens thousands of dollars in suspected payoffs from a developer.

A third county police officer, Sinisa Simic, 25, also was charged in a cocaine conspiracy Monday and faces up to life in prison if convicted.

Amrik Singh Melhi, 51, of Clarksville, who owns several liquor stores in the area, paid off police officers to help ship untaxed alcohol and cigarettes in Maryland and Virginia, authorities said. Among those accused of helping him were Prince George’s Police Sgt. Richard Delabrer, 45, and Cpl. Chong Chin Kim, 42. The charges carry up to 20 years in prison.

The indictment against Mr. Melhi and six others, including his wife, Ravinder, and the two officers, was made public in federal court in Greenbelt, Md., on Monday and seeks the forfeiture of $3.5 million, 25 properties, 13 vehicles and money from 84 bank accounts that authorities say they traced to the purported crimes.

U.S. Attorney for Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein said all three officers had “crossed a bright line from catching criminals to conspiring with criminals.”

The charges come just days after federal law enforcement officials announced Mr. Johnson’s arrest in a crackdown on what FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard A. McFeeley called corruption “at all levels of Prince George’s government.”

Mr. Johnson was charged with witness tampering and destruction of evidence in a long-running federal investigation into bribes paid by real estate developers to county officials, according to prosecutors.

In court papers, authorities said the investigation has been under way for nearly four years, with a wiretap on Mr. Johnson’s cell phone in place since January.

Mr. Johnson, who has said he’s innocent of the charges, was released pending trial, and he’s under electronic monitoring.

Nabbed by the FBI taking $15,000 from an unnamed developer, Mr. Johnson later told his wife by phone to hide tens of thousands of dollars at his home in her underwear, just as FBI agents arrived at their door Friday morning.

Leslie Johnson, who was elected but not yet sworn into a seat on the Prince George’s County Council, was also charged Friday, and the FBI recovered $79,600 in cash from her underwear, authorities said in charging documents.

The county executive, a Democrat who was previously the county’s top prosecutor, also told his wife to tear up a $100,000 check from the developer

“Tear it up! That is the only thing you have to do,” Mr. Johnson told his wife, according to charging papers.

• Jim McElhatton can be reached at jmcelhatton@washingtontimes.com.

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