Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Hasidic Watchman Charged With Bribery 

A member of a Hasidic neighborhood watch group known as the Shomrim bribed police with $6,000 per gun license for more than 100 of their rank and file, federal prosecutors said.

Shaya "Alex" Lichtenstein, a 44-year-old Pomona resident, faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted of bribery and conspiracy.

In a 10-page complaint filed Monday, federal prosecutors say Lichtenstein floated the prospect of $900,000 by an undercover officer less than a week ago, after saying that his prior connection in the department had cut ties.

On April 13, the unnamed officer met with Lichtenstein in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Borough Park.

Fearing the officer had a wire, Lichtenstein said he would have preferred meeting him "in your underpants and your undershirt," prosecutors said.

Prosecutors say the officer — who is not named in the complaint — was indeed recording the conversation on video and audio.

Lichtenstein promised the officer and a union delegate "more than you'll make in the police department," according to the complaint.

Taking out a calculator, Lichtenstein multiplied $6,000 per license by the number sold to the Shomrim the previous year to come up with $900,000, prosecutors said.

Though Lichtenstein insisted, "I'm not bribing you," the officer replied: "Shaya, I'm not an a--hole, of course you're bribing me. Let's be frank and honest here," according to the complaint.

Prosecutors say Lichtenstein let this comment pass.

Fresh from a series of cases involving high-level bribery in the New York Legislature, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said corruption in the New York City Police Department also erodes at the public trust.

"Corruption in any part of government cuts at the very fabric of our society," he said in a statement. "But it is particularly damaging when it undermines public safety."

An FBI agent interviewed another officer who processed applications for an unnamed sergeant. That officer told the agent that Lichtenstein would give him and the sergeant about $100 in "lunch money" for the applications, according to the complaint.

No officer has been charged in this case.

A magistrate judge released Lichtenstein on $500,000 bond on Monday, Newsday reported.

Lichtenstein's attorney did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.

Profiled in the Village Voice article, "The Shomrim: Gotham's Crusaders," the watch group has faced down allegations of vigilantism and turning a blind eye to sex-abuse cases in their community.

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