Saturday, November 12, 2016

Head of Hasidic Watch Group Pleads Guilty to Bribes 

With a new guilty plea on Thursday morning, all but one accused participant of a conspiracy to arm a Hasidic neighborhood watch group by bribing the New York City Police Department’s Licensing Division has been convicted.

Shaya “Alex” Lichtenstein, a 44-year-old Pomona resident, was arrested on April 17 at his house, where prosecutors say that they found photographs of him with NYPD personnel around his office.

Lichtenstein’s indictment accused him of offering $900,000 in bribes to snag gun licenses for the Shomrim, a Hasidic neighborhood watch group based in Brooklyn.

At a brief hearing this morning, Lichtenstein acknowledged actually following through on a fraction of that amount: $6,000 in bribes.

In his written statement, Lichtenstein spoke in carefully crafted tones of his “good and friendly” relations with the NYPD between 2013 and 2016.

“During these years, I gave police officers in the Licensing Division things of value, including money, knowing that by giving them these things the officers would do me favors, including expediting gun license applications that I submitted for other people,” he told the court.

When U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein asked whether he knew that his conduct was wrong and illegal, Lichtenstein replied with a simple “yes.”

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose anticorruption crusade has made national headlines, said in a statement that Lichtenstein’s conduct cannot be tolerated.

“As he admitted today, Alex Lichtenstein acted as a corrupt gun ‘expediter,’ bribing police officers to obtain gun licenses, offering thousands of dollars per license,” Bharara said. “In a recorded conversation, Lichtenstein bragged of using his NYPD connections to obtain 150 gun licenses.  This type of corruption not only undermines public confidence in law enforcement, but it undermines public safety.”

Lichtenstein’s attorney Richard Finkel declined to comment.

His client’s guilty plea today to one count of bribery and another of conspiracy opens Lichtenstein up a possible 20-year sentence, though his actual prison term will likely be less than six years.

Lichtenstein also faces up to a $430,000 maximum fine and forfeiture.

Prosecutors accuse Sgt. David Villanueva of being Lichtenstein’s source within the department’s Licensing Division.

Villanueva, who has pleaded not guilty and faces a trial on Feb. 13, allegedly rubber-stamped applications of up to 150 of Lichtenstein’s clients. One previously had been arrested for domestic abuse and bribing a public official, prosecutors say.

The third officer charged within the Licensing Division conspiracy, Richard Ochetal, is now cooperating with the government.

A related and lurid corruption case involving three high-ranking police officers continues.

Unsealed in June, the case involves allegations of bribes delivered by Christmas elves, gifts of international vacation travel, and a flight on a private jet with a prostitute to Las Vegas for the Super Bowl.


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