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Ticket-Fixing Indictment Looms for 17 Cops

By Murray Weiss | September 19, 2011 4:20pm

A grand jury is expected to vote Tuesday morning on whether to indict as many as 17 cops on criminal charges stemming from a two-year probe into alleged NYPD ticket-fixing, DNAinfo.com has learned.

Sources told "On the Inside" that the indictment, which comes after six months of testimony from cops and police union officials, could include prominent officials in the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, several sergeants and possibly even a lieutenant. They would face an array of charges including bribery, perjury, receiving gifts and official misconduct for fixing tickets for friends, family and colleagues for a range of incidents from moving violations to drunk driving.

A Bronx union official who fixed a speeding ticket for New York Yankee executive Doug Behar and then received special access to special clubs at the stadium is among the key targets, sources said. Discussions about killing Behar’s ticket were captured on secret wiretaps that were obtained by DNAinfo.com.

Another Bronx union representative faces possible arrest for allegedly putting a gun to his wife’s head during a domestic dispute that was covered up by police, sources said.

After the grand jury vote, authorities will notify cops whether they have been indicted through their lawyers and tell them where to surrender. Other officers who do not have legal representation will be arrested when they show up for the next tour of duty. They also will be suspended from the force and their guns will be taken, which is routine but also a necessary precaution against anyone using it on themselves or anyone else.

The ticket-fixing probe grew out of a 2009 NYPD Internal Affairs investigation of Officer Jose Ramos, who is a former delegate at the 40th Precinct in the Bronx. Ramos allegedly associated with a ex-con drug dealer from Jamaica, Queens, and Internal Affairs sent undercover cops to investigate Ramos' dealings. 

During the sting, investigators also bugged a telephone Ramos used in a barbershop he owned in the Soundview section of the Bronx. While eavesdropping on the barbershop, IAB heard Ramos talk about fixing a ticket, and their drug probe suddenly found a new and shockingly fertile direction to explore.

Soon, prosecutors from the Bronx District Attorney's office and Internal Affairs bugged as many as 30 NYPD officers and unearthed a systematic problem within the NYPD as they followed one conversation after another.  They heard about incidents of cops covering up drunk driving incidents not only within the five boroughs, but in neighboring suburbs. They included one cover-up of an incident where a drunk off-duty cop from Manhattan crashed his car in Westchester.

But there was more.

One cop was caught on tape negotiating with prostitutes. Others were heard taking gifts including home repairs for fixing tickets. There was one cop who got a summons killed for his father’s barber. Another had a summons killed for his daughter’s boyfriend who needed his driver’s license to be cleansed so he could become a cabbie.

Investigators raided a Manhattan union delegate's locker and found copies of more than 240 tickets, sources said.

The problem was so widespread that prosecutors established ticket-fixing thresholds to determine which officers to indict on criminal charges. As a result, prosecutors and the NYPD narrowed down a list of 24 officers who are not allowed to retire if they are facing possible criminal charges — which would mean the officers would be stripped of their pension if convicted in a criminal case.

The remaining hundreds of cops tainted by the scandal would likely only be subject to departmental trials and discipline.

During the probe, as many as 50 officers, including a half dozen union officials, have testified before the grand jury with immunity since the panel was originally convened March 20. The union itself has so many members involved that it's hired a "Goodfellas" lawyer to help its legal defense against possible enterprise corruption charges, which are usually reserved for Mafia prosecutions.

The grand jury was initially empaneled for 60 days, but that was lengthened several times. Each monthly extension further strained the NYPD’s rank-and-file as members anxiously awaited their fate.

The strain apparently overwhelmed officer Robert McGee, 62, who had his gun stripped before he testified with immunity before the grand jury last week. McGee tried to kill himself by grabbing the third rail in the subway shortly after his court appearance.

Dozens of other cops have already pleaded guilty to department charges, forfeited six days pay for each ticket they fixed and have retired to protect their pensions.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg initially tried to downplay the ticket-fixing scandal as just the work of a few bad apples, but he eventually came around to acknowledge that the wrongdoing was serious.

For his part, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly last summer changed the way tickets are recorded, but that did not deter cops from continuing to kill them by having officers shade their testimony, or even forget the incident, when they later showed up in court.

Kelly then created a unit within Internal Affairs to monitor ticket writing and tickets that were later dismissed in court. As part of the crackdown, officers who wrote tickets with errors in them were subject to loss of pay.

All of this resulted in a sharp drop in ticket writing among New York’s Finest and the loss of millions of dollars in revenue. The ongoing probe has also wreaked havoc in other criminal cases where the integrity of cops implicated in this scandal has undermined their credibility on the witness stand and hurt prosecutions.

Tuesday’s grand jury decision will assuredly be the largest scandal involving NYPD officers in decades, since the days of the "Dirty Thirty" in Harlem where cops were charged with ripping off drug dealers and other crimes.

The Bronx District Attorney's office declined comment.

That scandal resulted in the convening of a special commission chaired by Judge Milton Mollen to determine the roots of the corruption. Whether a similar panel is needed depends on what the Bronx DA says when he announces his findings following the conclusion of the grand jury's work.