The New York Times by A. G. SULZBERGER - May 13, 2010
Two police officers — one current and the other former — appeared in the federal courthouse in Brooklyn on Thursday, each to deal with strikingly similar criminal charges related to the misuse of police authority. The former officer, Jorge H. Arbaje-Diaz, pleaded guilty for his participation in robberies of drug dealers set up to look like police raids. The current officer, Emmanuel Tavarez, appeared at a bail hearing on charges that he participated in an unrelated but nearly identical scheme. The overlapping appearances in United States District Court for the Eastern District, in Brooklyn, highlighted how similar the narratives were of a form of police corruption that Loretta E. Lynch, the United States attorney in Brooklyn, said “unfairly tarnishes the proud reputation of the thousands of law enforcement officers in New York.” Both cases involved violent crews that conducted more than 100 robberies in the Northeast over several years, during which members posed as police officers to gain entry into homes to steal money and drugs, prosecutors said. And both cases included real officers who used police equipment and threats of arrest, prosecutors said. “Though these cases are similar, there are no common defendants, and no evidence indicating that there is a connection,” said Robert Nardoza, a spokesman for Ms. Lynch’s office.
Mr. Arbaje-Diaz, a three-year veteran of the Police Department, had been assigned to the transit bureau in the Bronx when he was arrested, and he resigned from the force in 2008. He spoke tentatively as he pleaded guilty to charges of robbery and drug distribution conspiracy, his words barely audible. He told Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis that he repeatedly robbed drug dealers in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, later selling the drugs he would seize. “At times, I committed these robberies while I was wearing my police uniform and badge,” he said. “At times, I would brandish my off-duty revolver and use my N.Y.P.D. handcuffs to restrain victims.” Mr. Arbaje-Diaz is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 16. He faces a sentence of 10 years to life in prison. Even as Mr. Arbaje-Diaz was winding down his case, Officer Tavarez was in the early stages of his own involvement with the federal criminal justice system. Prosecutors have accused Officer Tavarez of outfitting members of his robbery crew with raid jackets that bore the “N.Y.P.D.” insignia, along with badges, handcuffs and bullet-resistant vests. On at least one occasion, prosecutors said, he handed over his own service revolver for use in a robbery. Officer Tavarez, who has been suspended without pay, was making his third appearance since his arrest last week to determine whether he will be released on bail. He was ordered released last week on $1.8 million bail by a magistrate judge, but the government appealed to Judge Sandra L. Townes, calling him a danger to the community and a flight risk. Judge Townes said she would decide whether to release Officer Tavarez during another hearing on Friday.