By Murray Weiss
DNAinfo Contributing Columnist
As many as 50 city cops — including top union officials and supervisors — have testified against fellow NYPD officers before a grand jury about widespread ticket-fixing and other alleged corruption, DNAinfo has learned.
Sources say the Bronx grand jury has been meeting four times a week and that, on average, two officers every day have appeared before the panel, with immunity, since it began subpoenaing cops roughly two months ago.
There has not been a parade of blue marching toward a grand jury like this since whistle-blowing cop Frank Serpico and the Knapp Commission exposed officers who shook down criminals for bribes and protection in the 1970s.
Today’s NYPD scandal does not rise to anywhere near that venal level. But the casual nature with which some cops killed tickets — and more serious drunk driving and domestic violence incidents — for friends, relatives and their police brethren is beyond damaging.
My sources say that prosecutors are ending this phase of presenting evidence to the grand jury with a few more cops showing up in court later this week. The panel will "take a breather" in the coming weeks and "digest" the mountain of information they heard in order to decide what action to take against targets of the nearly two-year probe, sources said.
"There will of course be some house cleaning needed, in terms of presenting some more evidence to tidy up loose ends," one source said. "Then there will be votes on possible crimes."
I reported in April that there was a list of at least 24 officers who cannot retire until this probe is over, and at least 300 cops could face disciplinary action from the NYPD once the ticket-fixing probe concludes.
I have heard tapes that were among the thousands of hours of recordings made by prosecutors and Internal Affairs officials from 30 bugged NYPD officers' phones — including Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association officials and union delegates. They included cops talking about making a DWI incident disappear and fixing a speeding ticket for a Yankees executive.
I've also heard more details on how the investigation got started.
The ticket fixing probe grew after Internal Affairs looked into allegations involving a former 40 Precinct union delegate — Officer Jose Ramos.
Internal Affairs got a tip that Ramos allegedly was involved with an ex-con drug dealer from Jamaica, Queens, who was now peddling in the Soundview section of the Bronx. That neighborhood is home to the 41st Precinct and to a barbershop owned by Ramos, a source said.
To determine the nature of that suspected involvement, Internal Affairs decided to set up a sting. Two IAB cops stopped the dealer's car and discovered 8 pounds of marijuana in it. They then pretended they were corrupt cops, and took the pot. That left the dealer in the lurch — he had received the pot on consignment.
How was he going to convince his superiors that the drugs were taken by cops and not stolen by him? This is where Ramos allegedly stepped in. Sources said he provided the dealer with an authentic NYPD voucher, which he allegedly filled out in an attempt to prove the drugs were seized by police.
In addition, IAB also had undercover cops pose as drug dealers to approach Ramos seeking his help transporting kilos of cocaine. They also bugged his barbershop phone, where they eventually overheard a conversation about fixing a ticket.
Whether Ramos will face charges has yet to be determined by the grand jury. In the meantime, he has been reassigned by the NYPD. For his part, Ramos, who could not immediately be reached, has vehemently denied any wrongdoing. He told a Daily News reporter recently, "I haven't taken a dime. . . I have nothing to worry about."
IAB was not interested at first in pursuing such a minor affront as ticket-fixing, sources say.
But one detective insisted and he lit the match that caught fire — one bugged cell phone after another.
The IAB eavesdroppers got serious about ticket fixing when they heard a precinct delegate agree to help Ramos and then heard more cops disposing of summonses for one another without blinking an eye.
Now, nearly two years later, cops in every borough and in surrounding suburbs have come under grand jury suspicion.
Murray Weiss writes a weekly column for DNAinfo. He is an award-winning investigative journalist, author, columnist and editor, and is considered an expert on government, law enforcement, criminal justice, organized crime and terrorism.