NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Five present and three former New York City cops are among 12 suspects under arrest in connection with a scheme to smuggle guns, cigarettes and slot machines into New York City.
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“An officer who betrays his badge, betrays every honorable officer as well as every member of the public,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said at a news conference. “A gang of police officers who should have been keeping guns off the street — instead smuggled 20 firearms into the city.”
To read the full complaint, click here.
The charges were released Tuesday in a detailed criminal complaint. The investigation was conducted by the FBI and NYPD Internal Affairs over the past two years.
The complaint says the officers involved “exploited their experience and credentials to assist in a variety of schemes involving illegal interstate transportation of goods.”
Charged in the case are active-duty officers William Masso and Eddie Goris of the 68th Precinct, Ali Oklu of the Brooklyn South Task Force, Gary Ortiz of the 71st Precinct and John Mahoney of the 68th Precinct.
Retired cops Joseph Trichietta, Marco Venezia and Richard Melnick are also charged.
Trichietta and Marco were both assigned to the 68th Precinct at the time of the alleged scheme, but have since retired. Melnick was already retired from the 68th Precinct during the investigation.
Former sanitation cop Anthony Santiago and New Jersey corrections officer David Kanwisher also face charges as well as civilians Michael Gee and Eric Gomer.
Tuesday evening, the defendants were each released on $100,000 personal recognizance bond.
“A case like this is disheartening to the entire department — people who are out there day in and day out doing, in my judgment, a great job,” Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said.
It all started when a confidential informant tipped off authorities that an NYPD cop was looking to make money by transporting stolen goods, according to the complaint.
Officials say the informant wanted to find someone to fix his traffic tickets and was told to speak with one of the defendants in the case, Officer Masso.
The complaint says Masso agreed to work out some kind of payment with the informant in the form of the resale of stolen cigarettes.
Over the next several months, the complaint says an undercover officer and the informant worked together to supply the defendants and others with cigarettes, that were supposedly stolen out-of-state, to be resold in New York.
They allegedly transported hundreds of cases of cigarettes stolen from trucks in Virginia before they were taken to New York.
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Officials say as the suspects began smuggling cigarettes on a regular basis, the operation eventually started dealing in other goods, from handbags and clothing to slot machines and guns.
The suspects allegedly transported slot machines to Port Chester, N.Y., that were believed to be stolen from Atlantic City, according to the complaint.
It says the defendants then began transporting weapons, which included M-16 rifles, a shotgun and 16 handguns, from New Jersey to New York in rented mini-vans.
The undercover gave four of the police officers about $5,000 each to help transport the guns, according the complaint.
Prosecutors say the serial numbers on the majority of those guns were altered or obliterated and that the weapons had “been rendered inoperable by the FBI” and were never a danger to the public.
“The most disturbing aspect of this sting was that, according to the complaint, William Masso actually saw what he must have certainly believed were functioning guns,” Kelly said. “He had no way of knowing that the guns to be transported had been rendered inoperable. It was a betrayal of the highest order of an officer’s oath.”
Five of the cops are currently working in various precincts in Brooklyn and three were retired, reports CBS 2′s Pablo Guzman. Also charged in the case is a corrections officer from New Jersey and three others.
The street value of slot machines, cigarettes and weapons, officials said, was in excess of $1 million.
“These crimes are without question, reprehensible – particularly conspiring to import untraceable guns and assault rifles into New York,” Janice Fedarcyk, Assistant Director in Charge for the FBI in New York, said in a statement. “The public trusts the police not only to enforce the law, but to obey it. These crimes, as alleged in the Complaint, do nothing but undermine public trust and confidence in law enforcement.”
This latest investigation comes on the heels of 17 police officers being indicted in September in a ticket-fixing scandal in the Bronx.
More than 500 officers have been linked to the scandal. Those involved are accused of taking cash, alcohol and other gifts for fixing the tickets.
It’s still unclear whether the reference to ticket-fixing has any connection to the Bronx investigation.
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