QUEENS — A surveillance video shot inside a Queens karaoke club shows police officers from a scandal-scarred precinct searching the empty nightspot without a warrant — in possible violation of NYPD regulations and the law, DNAinfo New York has learned.
The recording taken Jan. 16 shows three NYPD officers from the embattled 109th Precinct entering the second-floor “360 Lounge” on 37th Avenue in Flushing shortly after 10 p.m.
At the time, the nightspot had been closed since New Year’s Day after its liquor license expired and the owners were awaiting its renewal.
The club was dark and no one was inside the second-floor nightspot when three officers entered through a side door leading from a basement that adjoined a sushi restaurant next door.
With flashlights beaming into the dimly lit club, the trio of officers — each wearing reflective jackets with the the word "POLICE" on their backs — roamed the place for two minutes, shining their lights behind the bar and around the customer and upstairs areas.
In the video, they were accompanied by the manager of the Yu Sushi Bar, who they had asked for a way into the 360 Lounge, according to documents, sources and interviews with the karaoke bar owner.
After finding nothing inside or any reason to summons the lounge, the officers departed.
But the following day, the sushi manager telephoned Betty Li, an owner of 360 Lounge, and told her “the cops came and he told them that my lounge was closed, but they wanted to go into it anyway,” Li told DNAinfo New York's “On the Inside.”
“Then I found the video, and I was like, ‘What the f---?” Li declared. “I could not believe they were trespassing in my place, and just went into my bar while it was closed, no search warrant, no nothing.”
Her lawyer fired off a letter demanding an explanation from the precinct commander, Deputy Inspector Thomas Conforti, who was on duty that day while his officers conducted “inspections.” Li’s lawyer did not mention the surveillance video.
Li received a reply a few days later from Brian Derr, the NYPD's deputy managing attorney for civil enforcement in Queens North, who said representatives from the state’s Liquor Authority and Workers Compensation Board were conducting joint inspections of several commercials establishments in Flushing that day for possible city and state violations.
He said they were accompanied by officers from the 109th Precinct, which was reeling from a corruption scandal involving the arrest of a lieutenant and detective who allegedly took bribes to protect nightspots from police inspections and other actions. In addition, nearly two dozen other officers were implicated in the investigation, and were either stripped of their badges and guns, or transferred from the precinct.
Derr maintained the “inspection” party of lawmen went to the 360 Lounge after checking out the nearby China Bar. The officers reported seeing a sign on the door that the lounge was having a “Grand Opening” that night, but the place was locked, dark and the police could not get in.
Instead of reaching out to the owners, they went into the adjoining Yu Sushi restaurant, where they were told by the manager that workers had been inside 360 Lounge earlier in the day.
“The manager of Yu Sushi informed the Workman’s Compensation that he saw workers inside immediately prior to the agencies' arrival and believed it was possible the workers [were] still inside, even though the lights were off [and] the front door was locked,” Derr wrote, maintaining the authorities needed to check because if there were workers inside it “would have constituted a violation.”
Derr said the manager “escorted” the police through a hallway and up “a set of stairs to a door that was cracked open.”
“The Yu Sushi manager then pushed the door open,” he concluded. “It was apparent to the officers that the Yu Sushi manager had the proper authority to permit access.
“For the protection of all involved, officers of the 109th Precinct then entered 360 Lounge and conducted a search for the alleged workers.”
That's “bulls---,” Li insisted.
She said the sushi manager telephoned her the following morning, telling her that “the cops came and he told them that my lounge was closed, but they wanted to go into it anyway.”
Li added there was never a “Grand Opening” sign in her window.
“Why would I have a sign with a re-opening date when I was closed waiting for a liquor license,” she said, adding that the sushi manager told her he never said there were workers inside her place that day.
“I always respected the police, but I am very pissed and I felt disgusted when I saw the tape,” she said. The tape, obtained by DNAinfo, is hours long and shows no one in the lounge except the police.
“I don’t know why the came into my bar,” she concluded. “I have nothing to hide, but just come and I will let you in, any time you want.”
Marvyn Kornberg, the lawyer for Lt. Robert Sung, one of the two 109 Precinct officers arrested last December, obtained Li’s tape as part of the investigation into his client.
Kornberg believes the “inspections” were largely motivated by NYPD Internal Affairs to find ways to pressure club owners and people they might arrest during the inspections to inform on police misconduct in the precinct — and that in their zeal they crossed the line.
Police made more than 20 arrests during the 109th Precinct's "inspections" crackdown, but most have subsequently been dismissed, officials say.
A law enforcement official told “On the Inside” that the controversy over the NYPD’s authority to enter the 360 Lounge may break down to a “he said, she said” conflict with each side challenging the other’s version.
The NYPD did not immediately comment beyond Derr's letter.
Conforti was transferred a few weeks ago into the Community Affairs Bureau in Manhattan, where he will head the Crime Prevention Unit, DNAinfo New York previously reported. Police officials say it put him on track for a promotion.
Kornberg, and Jeffrey Lichtman, the lawyer who represents Detective Yatyu Yam, the other officer under arrest, say there are no plea deals being considered with the Queens District Attorneys office.