The New York Times by William K Rashbaum and Joseph Goldstein - October 25, 2011
Eight current and former New York police officers were arrested on Tuesday and charged in federal court with accepting thousands of dollars in cash to drive a caravan of firearms into the state, an act of corruption that brazenly defied the city’s strenuous efforts to get illegal guns off the streets. The officers — five are still on the force, and three are retired — and four other men were accused of transporting M-16 rifles and handguns, as well as what they believed to be stolen merchandise across state lines, according to a complaint filed in the case in Federal District Court in Manhattan. The current and retired officers, most of whom at one time or another worked in the same Brooklyn station house, were arrested at their homes before sunrise by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and investigators from the Police Department’s Internal Affairs Bureau, officials said. Also arrested were a New Jersey correction officer, a former New York City Sanitation Department police officer and two men identified in the complaint as his associates. The gun-trafficking accusations strike at the heart of one of the Police Department’s most hard-fought and robust initiatives, and one that has been a central theme of the administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg: getting guns off the city’s streets. Mr. Bloomberg is the head of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a coalition of 600 municipal chief executives from around the nation. And the arrests come at a difficult time for a department, the largest municipal police force in the nation, already besieged by corruption accusations. In recent weeks, testimony at the trial of a narcotics detective has featured accusations that he and his colleagues in Brooklyn and Queens planted drugs or lied under oath to meet arrest quotas and earn overtime, leading to the arrests of eight officers, the dismissal of hundreds of drug cases because of their destroyed credibility and the payout of more than $1 million in taxpayer money to settle false arrest lawsuits. Two other officers, in unrelated federal cases, have been charged in recent weeks with criminal civil-rights violations accusing them of trumping up charges against innocent victims. In one case, on Staten Island, a white officer is accused of falsely arresting a black man and then bragging about it using a racial slur. And in the coming days, 16 officers are expected to face charges in a ticket-fixing scandal in the Bronx. Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, announced the charges at a news conference with the head of the criminal division of New York’s F.B.I. office, Diego Rodriguez, and the police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly.
Janice K. Fedarcyk, the assistant F.B.I. director in charge of the New York office, who was out of town on business, said in a prepared statement that the investigation began in 2009. “These crimes are without question reprehensible, particularly conspiring to import untraceable guns and assault rifles into New York,” Ms. Fedarcyk said. In an ironic twist, the new case began after an F.B.I. confidential informant sought to have a traffic ticket fixed in exchange for payment. He was introduced to one of the officers, William Masso, 47, according to the complaint. They developed a relationship, and Officer Masso began expressing interest in working with the informant to obtain and sell contraband, largely cigarettes. It grew into a yearlong undercover operation conducted by its agents and investigators from the Police Department’s Internal Affairs Bureau, with wiretaps on the phones of Officer Masso, the former Sanitation Department officer and four undercover agents, said the complaint, which was sworn out by Kenneth Hosey, an F.B.I. special agent. The charges include conspiracy to transport firearms across state lines, conspiracy to transport defaced firearms across state lines, conspiracy to sell firearms across state lines and conspiracy to transport and receive stolen property across state lines, according to the complaint. Most of the initial trips, in October and November 2010, involved ferrying cigarettes into New York. As months went by, the cargo would also include what the officers believed to be stolen or counterfeit goods, including slot machines, clothing and handbags, and eventually the firearms. In addition, one of the officers, along with two co-defendants, sold a shotgun to an undercover F.B.I. agent in July. As of late Tuesday afternoon, lawyers for the men were not available for comment. The accusations leveled against the men in the four-count complaint depict the current and former officers and their co-defendants as little more than a loose confederation of petty crooks. One of the officers, Ali Oklu, 35, suggested at one point that there were certain things he would not do. “As long as we’re not tying anybody up, I don’t care,” he said in a conversation that the undercover agent secretly recorded after Officer Oklu was paid $15,000 for his role in helping steal 200 cases of cigarettes with several other officers in a sting the F.B.I. arranged in May. He added that he did not care “as long as there’s no drugs and guns involved..” Four months later, on Sept. 22, the undercover agent paid Officer Oklu, three other current officers, two of their retired colleagues and two of the other men $2,000 to $5,000 to transport 22 weapons, including three M-16 assault rifles and 16 handguns from New Jersey to New York, according to the complaint. The weapons, which were provided by the undercover agent, were inoperable, but the defendants knew that the serial numbers on many of the guns were defaced, according to the complaint, which prevents them from being traced to their source if used in a crime.
In a statement, Mayor Bloomberg said that if the charges proved true, the officers’ actions “would be a disgraceful and deplorable betrayal of the public trust,” noting that the city “has lost too many people — and too many police officers — to criminals who buy guns illegally.” The mayor and Commissioner Kelly each defended the department, suggesting that the rogue actions of a few officers did not impeach the entire force. “The sad reality is that some people are going to violate their oath of office,” Mr. Kelly said at the news conference, adding: “I would submit to you that it is a very small minority. But if you had 1 percent of 50,000 people you would have 500 people.” In addition to Officers Oklu and Masso, the current police officers charged in the case are Gary Ortiz, 27, of Brooklyn; Eddie Goris, 31, of Queens; and John Mahoney, 26, of Staten Island. The retired officers are Joseph Trischitta and Richard Melnik, both 42 and of Staten Island, and Marco Venezia, 46, of Brooklyn. Officers Masso, Goris and Mahoney work in the 68th Precinct in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn. The three retired officers worked at the 68th Precinct when they retired. Also charged were David Kanwisher, 38, of Tuckerton, N.J., a correction officer in New Jersey; Anthony Santiago, 45, of Tuckerton, a former officer with the New York City Sanitation Department police, and two of his associates, Michael Gee, 40, and Eric Gomer, 28, both of Staten Island. Colin Moynihan contributed reporting.