Ticket-Fixing Scandal Looms Over NYPD
By Murray Weiss
DNAinfo Contributing Columnist
The tremors being felt around Manhattan today are not from an earthquake, but rather shockwaves emanating downtown from Police Headquarters and City Hall, where officials are preparing for a police scandal the likes of which the city has not felt in decades.
For the past year, internal investigators and prosecutors have been secretly eavesdropping on the telephones of New York City police officers. Most of them are delegates representing the city's Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the union that provides labor and legal counsel to fellow cops, my sources say.
According to insiders, there are thousands of hours of recorded conversations of New York's Finest and a major scandal is about to break wide open with the arrests of 10 officers in a burgeoning ticket-fixing case dating back to 2008.
Other sources believe the arrest figure could double or even triple by the time the grand jury finishes its work in a few weeks, depending on how many targets ultimately cooperate.
I am told the NYPD has a list of at least 24 cops who they will not allow to retire until this investigation is over – which means these officers are all under a criminal cloud.
Some veterans with decades on the force or close to retirement are trembling that their entire careers and pensions could be lost.
There are so many cops being eyed that prosecutors have established thresholds of alleged ticket fixing and wrongdoing to determine which officers will face criminal charges, such as bribery and perjury, and which ones will be charged only by the NYPD.
And that number is staggering.
Sources say it could reach into the hundreds before this is over, including supervisors, who will be slapped with violating various departmental rules — ranging from fudging reports and tampering with official records to failing to take action to stop fellow cops from fixing tickets.
While the Bronx DA's office is spearheading the grand jury probe, public integrity officials have alerted prosecutors in every borough to prepare for pieces of this massive case, which means there are cops being targeted everywhere around the city.
"This is a major citywide investigation," said a knowledgeable source outside of the Bronx.
They are talking scandal the size of the "Dirty Thirty" in Harlem in the mid 1990s, and the "Buddy Boys" in Brooklyn in the 1980s, but thankfully without the violent, venal corruption that accompanied those tales.
This case started when the owner of a barber shop in the Soundview section of the Bronx near the 43rd Precinct made a telephone call to his son who is a cop. There was a conversation about a ticket and whether something could be done to get it killed, my sources say.
Unbeknownst to them, the telephone was being tapped by cops investigating drug dealing in the neighborhood. The conversation was recorded. Internal Affairs was notified. The NYPD deserves credit. They notified Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson and away they went.
Surveillance was established. There was follow up on what happened to the summons mentioned in the barber shop tape and the investigation picked up steam. Then, Internal Affairs and prosecutors went to a judge for permission to listen to more telephone conversations.
One call led to another. Precinct delegates who also serve as union representatives became targets because cops went to them to figure out how to help friends and relatives. "They caught people saying, 'Can you take care of this for me, or can this be taken care of?" one source said.
Some cops eventually took money to fix tickets, which is the worst of it, and won't be forgiven.
Others were merely told to help people out by failing to show up at court so tickets were dismissed.
Others still showed up in court but pretended that their memories were faulty in order for tickets to go away.
Some allegedly tinkered with records.
Most of this was done to help out friends or relatives, or friends and relatives of friends or relatives. A few influential types may be among those who sought out cops to kill tickets, sources say.
This kind of police courtesy has been extended by members of the NYPD for as long as the department has been around with cops enjoying a measure of latitude to help people out of this type of relatively minor violation.
"This sort of thing has been going on since the caveman," a veteran insider said. "It is probably as much a training issue for cops to know that seemingly minor things are not even contemplated."
But that will not stop the Bronx prosecutors spearheading the push for a grand jury. DA Robert Johnson seldom cuts any slack to cops who cut corners, or make false entries into their records or 'testify' in court.
Several cops have been granted immunity and are already talking, including a female cop in the Bronx who is also testifying in a separate criminal case, my sources say.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has already tried to jump out in front of an impending tsunami of bad press to come.
Last summer, the NYPD created a new system that allows summonses to be tracked electronically, making it impossible to toss them, yank them out of a precinct house summons box or tinker with them on line.
It is similar to what the State Police implemented years ago when they felt their troopers might be playing favorites around the Empire State.
But the department's remedy to stop the practice has come too late for the scores of cops caught on tapes that were rolling for more than the past year around the city.
The case may have aftershocks beyond the NYPD and City Hall. There is talk among prosecutors about bringing in the federal government if they can prove that this is a systemic problem or if the union had a broader role in creating it in the first place.