Former NYPD Officers Face Federal Bribery Charges
Three ex-officers and a former Brooklyn prosecutor are accused of swapping gun licenses for cash, prostitutes, guns and more
By Corinne Ramey and Zolan Kanno-Youngs April 25, 2017 3:01 p.m. ET
Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim spoke at a news conference on Tuesday in which arrests were announced in a federal gun-licensing probe that involved ex-NYPD officers and a former Brooklyn assistant district attorney. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Federal prosecutors charged three former New York Police Department officers and a former Brooklyn assistant district attorney on Tuesday with allegedly trading gun licenses for bribes including prostitutes, liquor and guns.
In the scheme, so-called expediters, or individuals who charge clients to help them get gun-license approvals, bribed officers in the NYPD’s gun-licensing division, according to prosecutors. These officers then approved or expedited more than 100 gun licenses, including for people with criminal histories, prosecutors said.
“Corruption was allegedly pervasive at the NYPD’s License Division,” said acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon Kim at a news conference Tuesday. That corruption “also spawned a cottage industry of parasitic profiteers,” he added, referring to the expediters. The bribes included cash, vacations, parties and an $8,000 watch, officials said.
Federal authorities previously charged others, including police officers, last year in connection with corruption in the NYPD’s License Division in Manhattan.
On Tuesday, the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office charged Paul Dean, a former lieutenant who was second in command in the License Division; Robert Espinel, a former police officer; Gaetano “Guy” Valastro, a former NYPD detective who operated a private gun store in Queens; and John Chambers, a former Brooklyn prosecutor who marketed himself as a top firearms-licensing attorney; with crimes including conspiracy to commit bribery.
Prosecutors also said Tuesday that David Villanueva, a former NYPD sergeant, and Frank Soohoo, a gun-license expediter, pleaded guilty and were cooperating with the government.
Federal Bureau of Investigation agents arrested Messrs. Dean, Espinel, Valastro and Chambers on Tuesday morning. They appeared in federal court in Manhattan Tuesday afternoon.
Barry Slotnick, a lawyer representing Mr. Chambers, said his client isn’t guilty of the allegations. Lawyers for Messrs. Espinel, Dean and Villanueva didn’t respond to requests for comment. An attorney for Mr. Valastro declined to comment.
Former NYPD Sgt. David Villanueva shown after facing bribery charges at federal court in Manhattan in June.
Photo: Kevin Hagen for The Wall Street Journal
NYPD commissioner James O’Neill said the licensing division had made significant changes as a result of the probe, including replacing its supervisors. He said expediters are prohibited from working with the licensing division and applicants must work directly with the supervisors.
“By and large every cop that I’ve had the opportunity to work with takes the job for the right reasons,” Mr. O’Neill said. “To disparage the name and the reputations of the other 36,000 of the hardworking and courageous men and women, I felt absolutely appalled.”
The NYPD licensing division is responsible for approving applications for handgun licenses in New York City. The licenses must be reviewed every three years, according to Lawrence Byrne, the NYPD’s deputy commissioner of legal affairs.
The NYPD reviews a person’s criminal and mental history and verifies details of their application. Some findings, such as a felony conviction, would result in an automatic rejection, one of the complaints stated.
Mr. Kim said some of the individuals who received approved licenses had been convicted of crimes involving weapons or violence.
According to a complaint, Mr. Dean and Mr. Espinel took bribes in the form of cash, guns and gun-training courses from expediters, including Mr. Valastro. Mr. Dean allegedly upgraded one request after the applicant spent thousands of dollars on him at a Queens strip club.
Mr. Soohoo fancied traveling when bribing officers, according to court documents. He allegedly paid for several trips for Mr. Villanueva, including in October 2015, when he and his spouse joined Mr. Villanueva on their honeymoon in Hawaii and paid for all of their travel and lodging, court documents said.
Between 2010 and 2015, Mr. Chambers bribed Mr. Villanueva with tickets to Broadway shows, sporting events and an $8,000 Paul Picot watch for expedited gun-licensing renewals, according to a complaint. Mr. Chambers is accused of paying Mr. Villanueva a total of $1,500 by sending him magazines stuffed with cash.
Mr. Villanueva also allegedly used his contacts at the Nassau County Police Department to expedite renewals there for Mr. Chambers, according to court documents. “We def have a friend,” Mr. Villanueva texted Mr. Chambers, according to a complaint, when asked about his Nassau police contact. “Let’s see how far we can stretch him.”
A spokesman for Nassau County police said their licensing division regularly works with other law enforcement agencies and processes more than “10,000 pistol licenses annually.”
Write to Corinne Ramey at [email protected]
and Zolan Kanno-Youngs at [email protected]
Appeared in the Apr. 26, 2017, print edition as 'Former NYPD Officers Face Bribery Charges.'