By MICHELLE J. NEALY, Maryland Newsline/CNS
GREENBELT (December 1, 2010)A Langley Park store owner, his wife and a Prince George's County Police corporal accused of conspiring to transport untaxed cigarettes and alcohol in Maryland and Virginia pleaded not guilty Tuesday in U.S. District Court.
Prince George's County Police Cpl. Chong Chen Kim, 42, of Beltsville, was released until his jury trial in January. He was ordered by U.S. Magistrate Judge Jillyn K. Schulze to adhere to curfew calls until an electronic monitoring system could be set up for him.
Ravinder Kaur Melhi, 49, who with husband Amrik Singh Melhi, 51, has ownership interests in Tick Tock Liquors in Langley Park, will be released Wednesday morning under a strict set of conditions that include a mental health evaluation, 24-hour electronic monitoring, no new travel plans and no purchases over $1,000.
Ravinder Melhi petitioned the court for permission to attend religious services, but her request was denied.
Her husband has not been released.
Kenneth W. Ravenell, lawyer for Amrik Melhi, said afterward, "Obviously, there has been a plea of not guilty, so those charges are being disputed. There will be a day in court, and it will all come out in the wash."
More than 30 family members, friends and supporters crowded into the small courtroom to await the results of Ravinder Melhi's arraignment and detention hearings, but they declined to comment afterward.
Members of the Guru Nanak Foundation, a religious organization of which Ravinder Melhi is a member of the board of trustees, circulated a petition labeling the Melhis "very dedicated parents that are very much involved in the community (and) pose no threat."
The petition had more than 200 signatures on it, organization officials said.
The Melhis and Kim were arrested Nov. 15 as part of a sweeping FBI corruption probe in Prince George's County that also ensnared County Executive Jack Johnson and his wife, County Council member-elect Leslie Johnson. The Johnsons were charged Nov. 12 with evidence tampering and destruction of records in a federal investigation of county officials' sweetheart deals with developers. They are expected back in court for a preliminary hearing Dec. 13.
Phone taps revealed the county executive told his wife on Nov. 12 to find and tear up a $100,000 check written to him by a developer, and to flush it down a toilet in their home. He also told her, as FBI agents were knocking on the front door of their Mitchellville home, to hide $79,600 in cash in her underwear, court records state. Soon after, FBI agents entered their home, searched Leslie Johnson and found the cash in her bra, court documents state.
Prosecutors allege Amrik Melhi paid off law enforcement officials, including Kim and Prince George's County Police Sgt. Richard Delabrer, 45, of Laurel, to help transport untaxed cigarettes and alcohol in Maryland and Virginia. Four others, including Ravinder Melhi, were charged in connection with this scheme. Delabrer pleaded not guilty last week.
Two others - Prince George's County Police Officer Sinisa Simic, 25, and Mirza Kujundzic, 30, both of Woodbridge, Va. - were charged with conspiring to distribute cocaine and unlawful possession of firearms for drug trafficking.
Schultze scheduled Dec. 10 motion hearings for the Melhis and Kim. An eight-week jury trial is expected to begin Jan. 18.