NEW YORK CITY — Two NYPD officers let convicted criminals get gun licenses in exchange for bribes including prostitutes, thousands of dollars, cases of beer and free baked goods, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.
The retired officers, Paul Dean, 44, and Robert Espinel, 47, were arrested along with another former NYPD officer and an ex-prosecutor Tuesday in an expanding corruption probe of "expediters" who plied officials in the department's License Division with alcohol, parties, thousands of dollars in bribes and lavish trips to Bahamas, Mexico and Puerto Rico, documents show.
"Corruption in the License Division also spawned a cottage industry of parasitic profiteers, alleged bribers masquerading as so-called expediters," said Acting United States Attorney Joon Kim.
"The charges reflect a serious violating of the oath these officers swore to uphold, eroding the trust the public has in this department," said NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill.
The latest developments center around the License Division, which staffed about 40 NYPD personnel, and was tasked with vetting applicants' backgrounds to see if they have any criminal history, domestic violence incidents, mental history or anything else that might make them unfit to carry a gun, officials said.
Dean, of Watagh, joined the NYPD in 1994 and was promoted to the second-highest ranking position in the division, overseeing all 40 personnel, including Espinel, and had ultimate authority of the applicant licenses, officials said.
Rather than doing background checks, however, Dean and Espinel, of Seaford, rubber stamped applications from clients of expediters like Gaetano "Guy" Valastro, who also served with the NYPD between 1988 and 1999, in exchange for "cash, paid vacations, personal jewelry, catered parties, guns, gun paraphernalia and other benefits," federal prosecutors said.
In July 2015, Dean and Espinel used their power to give a drinks wholesaler his gun back in exchange for free cases of beer and soda, according to David Villanueva, who oversaw the Licensing Division between 2010 and 2015 and dimmed on his colleagues when he was caught up in the corruption probe. (Villanueva pleaded guilty in February, prosecutors said.)
The wholesaler threatened a man in a liquor store with his gun which was then confiscated when he was arrested, prosecutors said. Dean lifted his suspended gun license and Espinel returned his gun, prosecutors said.
The wholesaler still had his gun and a valid license when he was arrested for assault as a hate crime for attacking a man's truck with a hammer and shattering his windshield all over his face, prosecutors said. Only then did Dean and Espinel revoke his license and take his gun, officials said.
In another instance, a baker's application was approved in 2013 because he regularly took the corrupt officers to a Queens strip club and paid for "thousands of dollars' worth of services on their behalf," prosecutors said.
Several different expediters — including Frank Soohoo and John Chambers — illicitly pushed their clients to other people in the License Division, officials said.
Soohoo, who owns a gun and gear store but pleaded guilty in the corruption probe in October 2016, used boozy parties at his store filled with prostitutes and dancers to butter up Dean, Espinel and Villanueva, prosecutors said.
Soohoo also footed the entire bill when he treated Villanueva and his family to trips to the Bahamas, Mexico and Puerto Rico, documents show.
Dean and Espinel eventually tried consolidate all the bribes by threatening to block Soohoo's clients if they didn't go through them, prosecutors said.
Dean and Espinel left the division in late 2015, "not satisfied with the bribes provided to them by expediters in light of the amounts the expediters were charging their clients," and tried to start their own consulting business, prosecutors said.
The pitch to their clients included a plan to usher their clients past the strict security at NYPD headquarters by driving them into the basement at One Police Plaza and take them up to the License Division offices where they'd "quickly review and approve their clients' gun license applications," prosecutors said.
Chambers, who served two years in the early 1980s as an assistant district attorney in the Brooklyn District Attorney's office, was also charged in the plot for bribing Villanueva who in turn helped with anywhere from 50 to 100 applications, prosecutors said.
Villanueva, 43, also used his influence to push through applications with his counterparts in Nassau County by filing the documents on NYPD letterhead, prosecutors said.
Chambers, of Manhattan, lavished him with tickets to Broadway shows and sporting events along with an $8,000 watch, sports memorabilia and cash, prosecutors said.
Chambers taped cash in magazines and mailed them to Villanueva, prosecutors said.
"[The client] is only paying me, if he gets his license renewed. I will in turn pay you as my 'consultant' on the case as we talked about :)," Chambers wrote Villanueva in a January 2012 email.
"I am going to tell him to KEEP HIS MOUTH SHUT when he goes to get his licenses ... not to mention me or ANYTHING ... just go and get it, period," Chambers added.