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17 Baltimore cops charged in kickback plot

BALTIMORE, Feb. 24 (UPI) -- Seventeen Baltimore police officers are charged with taking kickbacks by steering accident victims to a towing firm not approved to do business with the city.

More than a dozen other officers were suspended in the alleged extortion scheme, officials said.

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Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III helped make the arrests, summoning the officers to the department's training academy under the guise of an equipment inspection. There, he and an FBI special agent lined them up and took their badges.

"I'm here to reclaim our badge," The Baltimore Sun quoted Bealefeld as telling them.

Federal authorities outlined in a 41-page criminal complaint a scheme in which the officers allegedly conspired for two years with brothers Hernan Alexis Moreno Mejia and Edwin Javier Mejia, owners of Majestic Auto Repair Shop in Rosedale, a community northeast of Baltimore.

Majestic is not one of 13 towing companies, referred to as the "medallion towers," that have contracts with the city, officials said.

The officers allegedly received $300 for each towing job they sent to Majestic. One officer pocketed more than $14,000 in two years, Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein said.

The arrests and suspensions come as the department is struggling to replenish its ranks after a rash of departures, the Sun said.

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