Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Baltimore County Police officer accused of accepting bribes in exchange for handgun licenses

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Indicted Tuesday by a federal grand jury, a Baltimore County Police officer faces six counts of honest services wire fraud for allegedly accepting cash payments to certify people to own and operate handguns without completing the required training.

William R. Johnson is expected to have an initial appearance at U.S. District Court in Baltimore on Wednesday afternoon and is charged with conducting a scheme of accepting bribes and kickbacks and depriving others of an “honest service.” The 32-year-old Baltimore resident joined the Baltimore County force in 2008 and became a narcotics detective in 2014, according to a Tuesday news release sent by federal prosecutors.

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A lawyer for Johnson couldn’t be reached for comment because the case was not yet listed in online court records as of Tuesday evening.

In 2019, Johnson obtained a qualified handgun instructor certificate from Maryland State Police, which authorized him to instruct students on using firearms, prosecutors said. Those who purchase, rent or receive a handgun in the state must have a handgun qualification license, and a wear-and-carry permit must also be acquired to use them legally.

Hours of training are required to obtain the licenses: at least four for handgun qualification licenses, and 16 for initial wear-and-carry permit applications, plus an additional eight upon renewal applications for those permits. Wear-and-carry permit applicants must also complete a Maryland State Police firearms training course within two years of submitting a new or renewal application.

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Johnson accepted payments for licenses and permits via interstate electronic transfer funds services, such as Venmo, CashApp and Zelle, in exchange for him falsely certifying that they had completed the required training, according to federal prosecutors. He allegedly charged about $100 for handgun qualification licenses and $150 to $200 for wear-and-carry permits, prosecutors said.

After receiving payment, Johnson told applicants they would not need to attend the required classes and sent them score sheets falsely certifying the completion of the training. Applicants then used those forms to apply for their licenses and permits. Johnson received six payments from five people for licenses, permits or both, according to the release.

In the two years since earning his qualified handgun instructor certificate, Johnson certified at least 100 applicants for handgun licenses and at least 45 for wear-and-carry permits, prosecutors said.

According to the state police website, qualified handgun instructors “whose courses fail to meet minimum standards and who improperly certify applicants” will lose their certification.

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If convicted, Johnson could face 20 years for each of the six counts of honest services fraud.

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