NEW YORK CITY — NYPD officers under investigation for taking payoffs in exchange for expediting gun licenses allegedly held secret meetings inside police headquarters before business hours with an accused bribe-giving businessman seeking firearm permits for friends without background checks, DNAinfo New York has learned.
Alex Lichtenstein, 44, routinely showed up before the unit was formally opened for business on the first-floor of One Police Plaza and met with at least three of the unit’s officers — including a sergeant and lieutenant, sources said.
Lichtenstein often arrived with an armful of snacks, sources said.
The Brooklyn businessman's arrest is connected to an ongoing federal probe into high-ranking NYPD officials receiving money and gifts in exchange for favors.
The investigation is also looking into fundraising activities for Mayor Bill de Blasio's defunct nonprofit that advanced his political agenda, the Campaign for One New York.
Lichtenstein was arrested by the FBI about a month ago after he allegedly approached yet another police officer, who he offered $6,000 for help obtain a gun permit for a client with no questions asked, according to a criminal court complaint filed by Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara
That officer, however, was working with the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau and the FBI and recorded the conversation, court records show.
On the tape, Lichtenstein boasted that he had several officers on his payroll, who he gave tens of thousands of dollars for gun permits for his friends and customers.
At the time, he complained that his access had recently been restricted by the division’s commanding officer, and that he now was looking for a new NYPD connection to help him get permits, the complaint said.
Lichtenstein was receiving upwards of $16,000 from his clients for a permit, investigators said.
The federal complaint alleges that one of the unit’s officers later admitted to a federal agent that he received $100 in lunch money from Lichtenstein, which he shared with his sergeant supervisor.
Although the complaint did not identify those officers, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton has stripped the badges and guns from Sgt. David Villanueva and Officer Richard Ochetal and placed them on modified assignment.
In addition, two lieutenants who retired recently from the License Division have also been quizzed by the FBI, sources say.
Since Lichtenstein's arrest, the Internal Affairs Bureau has been reviewing all gun permits tied to Lichtenstein, and has already ordered three dozen gun owners to turn in their permits pending the outcome of the review.
Bratton is also expected to announce as early as tomorrow a number of changes to oversight of the License Division, which has a troubled history involving alleged corruption.