BALTIMORE - A day after saying she had "full confidence" in Baltimore's police commissioner as he faces federal charges of failing to pay his taxes, the city's mayor on Friday suspended him with pay.
Although Commissioner Darryl De Sousa has been "an effective leader," she decided to place him on paid suspension as he deals with his ongoing legal case, Mayor Catherine Pugh told reporters. Deputy Commissioner Gary Tuggle will serve as acting leader in the meantime.
De Sousa faces three misdemeanour counts of failure to file taxes.
The U.S. Attorney's office alleged Thursday that De Sousa "wilfully failed to file a federal return for tax years 2013, 2014, and 2015, despite having been a salaried employee of the Baltimore Police Department in each of those years." If the charges are proven, he faces up to one year in prison and a $25,000 fine for each of the three counts.
De Sousa's attorney, Steven Silverman, said federal prosecutors didn't give his client a chance to offer an explanation or to file late tax returns before they brought criminal charges against him. Silverman said De Sousa did not know about the investigation until after the charges were filed.
"Most taxpayers in this situation are first given an opportunity to cure __ by filing belated tax returns," Silverman said in a statement. "Criminal charges are usually a last resort by the government after the taxpayer has ignored the government's warning."
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office did not immediately return a call seeking comment. Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Wise, who leads the public corruption unit, did not speak to reporters Friday upon leaving a courtroom.
De Sousa issued a statement Thursday admitting his failure to file federal and state taxes for those three years, but portrayed it as an oversight. He said he filed his 2016 taxes and got an extension for 2017, and is now working with a "registered tax adviser."
"While there is no excuse for my failure to fulfil my obligations as a citizen and public official, my only explanation is that I failed to sufficiently prioritize my personal affairs," De Sousa said.
The city's police union president, Gene Ryan, said Thursday that the commissioner should "do the right thing by taking a leave of absence" until the federal case is resolved. He couldn't immediately be reached Friday.
When asked at the press conference about the vetting process for De Sousa, the mayor said "a few lessons" were learned. "I thought we vetted him pretty well. We went through all of his police credentials," Pugh said.
But David Harris, who researches police behaviour as a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, described the fiasco with De Sousa's federal charges as an "unnecessary, preventable error by the mayor."
"After all the problems the department has been through, how could this have gotten through the vetting process? It is a shame for the people of Baltimore and for all the officers in the department who follow the rules," Harris said."It's hard to see what authority the commissioner could have to impose discipline, given his own situation."
De Sousa's twin brother, Jason De Sousa, was one of about half a dozen people who gathered across the street from Baltimore police headquarters early Friday to voice support for the police commissioner. He said De Sousa was taking care of his parents, who had Alzheimer's, during the period when he didn't file his taxes.
After news of De Sousa's suspension was announced, Jason De Sousa said Pugh's decision demonstrated fairness. "I just hope that my brother does not give up and that he doesn't quit the fight to keep his name in good stead," he said.
De Sousa was touted as a change agent when Pugh picked him earlier this year as commissioner, even though he joined the city's force in 1988. He succeeded former commissioner Kevin Davis, who spent 2 1/2 years at the top job. At the time, Pugh said the leadership change was needed, given the city's eye-popping violent crime rate.
According to a biography provided by the city, Tuggle, the new acting commissioner, is a Baltimore native who began his law enforcement career as a city officer. In 1992, he joined the Drug Enforcement Administration, where he rose through the ranks, with posts eventually including Special Agent in Charge of the Philadelphia Field Division.
Tuggle returned to the Baltimore Police Department in March 2018.
Seemingly complicating matters further for De Sousa, the Baltimore Sun reported Friday that he has "only sporadically" filed mandatory financial disclosure forms with the city's ethics board. The forms need to be filed annually.
Associated Press writer Denise Lavoie contributed from Richmond, Virginia.
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