Officer Ken Moreno, middle with Officer Franklin Mata, right, speak to the media.
Photo credit: AP Photo/ Louis Lanzano
They're off the hook -- and off the force.
Almost immediately after their stunning rape and burglary acquittals, former NYPD Officers Kenneth Moreno and Franklin Mata were fired yesterday and stripped of their comfy salaries and lucrative pensions.
They also still face up to two years behind bars on their convictions of official misconduct for returning to their accuser's apartment after helping her into her building.
Moreno, 43, has earned more than $150,000 in the two years since he was first accused of raping a drunken fashion executive after being dispatched to help her out of a taxi outside her East Village apartment. He'd just passed the 20-years-of-service mark and could have retired with a full pension had he not been facing charges.
Mata, 29 -- a cop for just three years who'd been charged with serving as his partner's lookout -- made about $110,000 in the time since the pair's December 2008 arrest.
It was money for nothing for both cops, who were placed on modified duty and earned their paychecks simply by checking in with supervisors at Police Headquarters, according to one source. That gravy train has now derailed.
"The guilty verdict warrants immediate termination from the department," Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said of the misconduct ruling. "We will pursue that today. What they did was in violation of the officers' oath of office."
At around 4 p.m., Kelly signed off on the duo's walking papers and their pensions were voided, a police spokesman said.
But the ex-partners still looked relieved as they faced the cameras after their acquittals yesterday -- spared of as much as 25 years in prison had they been convicted of rape.
Moreno told reporters he believes the fashion executive at the center of the case had lied on the witness stand about being "penetrated" by him.
"I think she made the whole thing up," the father of two said, with just a hint of bitterness in his voice, as he spoke to reporters outside Manhattan Supreme Court.
"To be honest, I believe she made the whole thing up," he repeated, describing how it felt to sit at the defense table and hear the woman testify tearfully to waking up from a semiconscious, drunken state to find herself stripped and prone on her bed with the on-duty Moreno, in her words, violating her.
Still, he said of the woman, who still has a $57 million federal lawsuit against him, "I hope everything works out for her. I wish her no harm."
The seven-man, five-woman jury struggled for more than six days before clearing Moreno and Mata of all felony charges of rape, burglary and falsifying business records.
Yesterday, jury forewoman Rita Moore announced the acquittals in an almost triumphant tone -- but rendered the convictions with a stern, almost angry firmness.
The two officers were each convicted of three misdemeanor counts of official misconduct after jurors found that they knowingly refrained from their duties during three caught-on-video return trips to the accuser's East 13th Street apartment.
Sentencing is set for June 28; each officer faces anything from zero to two years in prison if the counts are sentenced consecutively, as allowed.
"I believe in my heart of hearts justice was served," Moreno's lawyer, Joseph Tacopina, said.
Prosecutors Coleen Balbert and Randolph Clarke labored to win a conviction despite a lack of rape forensics and a he-said, she-said scenario where the woman was reduced to pitting her booze-blurred memory against the witness-stand protestations of innocence by the two cops.
Prosecutors did possess formidable circumstantial evidence -- most notably a secretly recorded tape in which Moreno admitted to the woman that he'd used a condom and that it was "just me," not his partner, too.
Prosecutors also had incriminating sidewalk surveillance video from that early morning in December 2008 when they were dispatched to help her out of a taxi outside her apartment.
The video showed the cops using the drunken woman's key to let themselves back inside her apartment three more times.
But the same video showed the woman walking under her own power to her door -- even turning to make what looked to be a conversational gesture in Mata's direction.
Her blood-alcohol level after a nightclub vodka-drinking binge hovered near four times the legal limit for driving, and she would continue vomiting all night, yet she was able to climb five flights of stairs under her own power, defense lawyers argued -- proof that, four hours later, she would have metabolized enough alcohol to have not been physically helpless had any sex transpired.
The verdict left the two cops looking stunned beyond any visible display of emotion.
But their mothers, who sat together in the second row of the courtroom, appeared thrilled, particularly Mata's mother. Mata had faced the same maximum of 25 years in prison if convicted of conspiring in the accused rape by acting as his older partner's lookout.
"I just want to get on with my life," a relieved-looking Mata told reporters after the verdict. "It's been a long two years."
Moreno had testified that he'd made the three on-duty return visits to the woman's apartment -- dragging Mata along -- because as a recovering alcoholic he'd wanted to "help" her beat the booze.
His testimony described bizarre scenarios in which he rebuffed her near-nude advances and crooned "Livin' on a Prayer" by Bon Jovi as they held hands in her vomit-splattered bathroom.
"Obviously, if I could go back, I wouldn't have done it," Moreno said of these "counseling" sessions. "It's a lesson learned. From the pureness of my heart, my intentions were from the beginning just to help her."
Republished with permission of The New York Post.