Wednesday, April 26, 2017
Escalating a probe of the New York City Police Department, new criminal charges unveiled Tuesday accuse a former lieutenant, two former officers and an ex-Brooklyn prosecutor of feeding gun licenses to "cottage industry of parasitic profiteers."
"When police officers violate their oath in this way, they not only betray the public they have sworn to protect, but their fellow officers who do their jobs the right way, remaining faithful to the duties they owe to the public and to each other," Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim told reporters.
The Tuesday morning press conference marked Kim's first since the firing of his predecessor, Preet Bharara, who opened the NYPD corruption case last year.
"We continue today what we started a year ago," Kim said.
The original complaint had accused high-ranking officers including of providing "cops on call" to businessmen who bribed them with flying a private jet with a prostitute to Las Vegas for Super Bowl weekend.
Though prostitutes, luxury travel and entertainment still abound in the new charges, Tuesday's filings link the NYPD's Licensing Division to a business that boasted an ability to expedite gun permits.
Sgt. David Villanueva has pleaded guilty to corrupting the NYPD's licensing division, the newly unsealed records show, joining his colleague Richard Ochetal, who announced his cooperation with the government last year.
"The information that they provided, along with the other evidence we've gathered, paint a devastating picture of pervasive corruption at the licensing division," Kim said.
Prosecutors also nabbed a secret October plea from gun license broker Frank Soohoo. Court papers show the 55-year-old working with Villanueva, Ochetal, ex-Lt. Paul Dean and former officer Robert Espinel.
"Specifically, in 2015, Dean and Espinel, along with Villanueva and Ochetal, went to two parties at Soohoo's store, at which Soohoo arranged, at Dean's request, free food and alcohol, and for dancers and prostitutes to attend at Soohoo's expense," the 26-page complaint states.
Last year's indictment charged businessman Alex "Shaya" Lichtenstein with plying Villanueva and other licensing department contacts with bribes to help arm a Hasidic neighborhood watch group known as the Shomrim.
Apparently envious of his subordinates in the department, Dean attempted to extort Lichtenstein to keep this "pipeline" flowing to him, prosecutors say.
"I'm done watching people make money off of my back," Dean allegedly griped in a recorded conversation on Dec. 8, 2015. "I'm the one whose signing off on everything, I'm the one who's taking care of everything. you're making money you, and dozens of other people."
Prosecutors say Villanueva and his wife even honeymooned in Hawaii on Soohoo's dime in late 2015.
Soohoo also picked up the travel and lodging a year later for Villanueva and Ochetal in the Dominican Republic.
The complaint quotes Dean as bragging that Villanueva "should buy his wife a shovel, because they would make so much money that they would have to dig themselves out of it."
In return, the officers stocked Soohoo with already-signed "pink slips" — a type of NYPD gun license — that the broker would sell to his clients, prosecutors say.
Soohoo also allegedly paid $2,000 for Villanueva to approve a carry license for his client, who had prior convictions for gang assault and rape.
Court papers do not identify the client who received the weapon, but NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill told reporters that the department flagged 440 of the licenses as "suspicious" and suspended about 100 to date in an ongoing review.
"We've replaced all the supervisors left, and we've increased the supervision," O'Neill said.
Despite emphasizing the department's transparency, O'Neill would not commit to a request by Courthouse News that the department release a report it has prepared on its internal investigation.
The former Brooklyn prosecutor newly implicated by the scandal is John Chambers, 62, who was in office between 1983 and 1985. The government says Chambers gave Villanueva tickets to Broadway shows, sporting events, an $8,000 watch, sports memorabilia and cash to grease his own license-expediting business, which operated at the website nygun.com.
"You know I have that 1500 in an envelope in my office for u — so you can pay off the credit card," Chambers told Villanueva in a text message, according to the complaint.
U.S. Attorney Kim told reporters that the men sometimes also passed off bribes hidden in magazines.
Prosecutors say Gaetano "Guy" Valastro charged $1,250 for a training course and helped customers get their pink slips. The 58-year-old Queens man's business was called Valastro Academy.
Dean, Espinal, Chambers and Valastro will face a federal magistrate this afternoon. The bribery and extortion charges against them carry maximum sentences ranging between 15 to 20 years.
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