Ten current and former law enforcement officers -- five of them with the NYPD -- and two civilians were rounded up Tuesday on charges they were part of a gunrunning, cigarette-smuggling and slot machine operation that had been ongoing since 2009, officials said.
The officers -- including three who are retired, a New Jersey state correction officer and a retired city sanitation cop -- were arrested by federal agents and New York Police Department investigators in a sting operation. Their charges were unsealed Tuesday afternoon at a news conference.
According to a criminal complaint, the cops were involved in a conspiracy in which they plotted with undercover agents and confidential informants to move 20 firearms -- including M-16 rifles -- cigarettes and slot machines across state lines. The weapons had secretly been made inoperable by the FBI before being given to the defendants, said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan.
The purportedly stolen property had a street value of about $1 million, Bharara said.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg emphasized the city "has lost too many people -- and too many police officers -- to criminals who buy guns illegally," citing Detectives James Nemorin and Rodney Andrews, who were killed trying to take illegal guns off the street in 2003.
"If the charges against the police officers arrested this morning prove true, it would be a disgraceful and deplorable betrayal of the public trust," Bloomberg said in a statement. "The fact that these were inoperable guns does not change the fact, if the charges prove true, that the officers violated their sacred oath."
The undercover probe began in 2009 after an FBI confidential informant approached the lead defendant, 68th Precinct cop William Masso, 47, of Brooklyn, to get a ticket "fixed," investigators said. Masso, according to the federal criminal complaint, then developed an "independent" relationship with the informant to do other crimes. Other officers then became involved, the complaint said.
"It is not easy to see police officers bring dishonor to an institution they are serving," Bharara said. "It is a heartbreaking thing, but it is our duty to enforce the law and to do so most unflinchingly when we come across people who betray their sacred duty."
What made matters worse, said Bharara, was that some of the NYPD officers used the protection of their badge and knowledge of law enforcement to further the scheme.
The arrests, carried out by the FBI and NYPD internal affairs bureau, come as the department is buffeted by a ticket-fixing scandal in the Bronx, a finding that one ranking officer misused pepper spray against Occupy Wall Street demonstrators, and reports that cops fabricated evidence in drug cases in Brooklyn. Officials said the ticket-fixing allegation in the latest case isn't related to the Bronx probe.
"The fact that these were stolen goods or that these firearms were inoperable [in] no way lessens culpability here, particularly for those who have sworn an oath to uphold the law," a somber Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said at the news conference.
Kelly said the arrested cops were immediately suspended and that four other officers with ties to Masso were placed on modified assignment.
Copyright 2011 - Newsday, Melville, N.Y.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service