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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

NYPD Officers Busted for Allegedly Smuggling Guns

Five officers are active-duty, three are retired, one is a New Jersey corrections officer.

Five NYPD cops were busted in a sting operation for smuggling illegal guns and supposedly stolen slot machines, cigarettes and counterfeit goods, the feds said Tuesday.

A criminal complaint details schemes by a cabal at Brooklyn's 68th Precinct to betray their badges with help from on-the-job cops, retired officers and civilian pals.

The complaint describes how a group of crime fighters took to moonlighting as criminals," Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said.

"How a gang of police officers who should have been keeping guns off the street instead smuggled 20 firearms into the city, and how a number of men once charged with enforcing the law are now charged with breaking it."

Mayor Bloomberg said if the charges prove to be true "it would be a disgraceful and deplorable betrayal of the public trust."

The allegedly corrupt cops were snared by a confidential informant on the FBI payroll - and caught on tape hatching and carrying out the off-duty misdeeds.

I'm getting a good army set up here," Officer William Masso, 47, bragged to the informant about his growing crew, according to one recording.

Prosecutors say Masso was the ringleader and met the informant in late 2009 when he was looking for someone who would "fix" traffic tickets.

Before long, the complaint says, Masso was offering to do a lot more than make a few summonses disappear.

By early 2010, Masso and the informant were talking about selling contraband, including illegal cigarettes, court papers say.

The cop said he had done it before - raking in $5,000 a week by selling cigarettes with fake tax stamps he got from an American Indian reservation.

It was good money. I needed it at the time," he told the informant, according to a secretly recorded conversation.

He fantasized about hunting down the person who made the tax stamps.

If I can get the f---ing stickers, do you know how much money you'll make with that?" Masso allegedly said.

In the ensuing months, Masso enlisted fellow 68th Precinct cops Eddie Goris and John Mahoney, Brooklyn South Task Force officer Ali Oklu and 71st Precinct cop Gary Ortiz in a number of criminal schemes, authorities said.

Three other cops with ties to the 68th Precinct were also arrested: Joseph Trischitta and Marco Venezia, who were working at the time but have since retired, and Richard Melnik, who was retired at the time.

Former Department of Sanitation cop Anthony Santiago and New Jersey correction officer, David Kanwisher, were also charged, along with two Santiago pals, Michael Gee and Eric Gomer, the complaint says.

The informant and undercover operatives working with him hired various members of the team to transport slot machines that they said were stolen on the way to a casino.

They allegedly took a cache of guns, including M-16 rifles and handguns that were untraceable because they had their serial numbers defaced, across state lines.

They even used a bolt cutter to break into tractor-trailers filled with cigarettes, which they then drove from Virginia to New York, court papers say

The narrative in the complaint is full of clandestine meetings in hotel rooms and parking lots, the cops fretting about getting caught and not getting paid enough.

In one recording, Masso told the informant he could supply protection for his criminal partners.

"I have good guy, bad guy...whatever he wants we get," he was caught saying.

"One guy seven foot tall with muscles out to here - we get him. You want a guy who beat the s--- out of somebody who bothers him. We got that. We got cops with vests and guns."

On other tapes, Masso complains that his crew - who pocketed more than $170,000 for their work - were underpaid.

They're risking a lot for a little," he said on one recording.

And in another exchange, Masso talked about how he was warned to be careful when he was running his own smokes-smuggling operation.

They said, 'Be careful, you get caught, you're f---ed,'" he recalled.

The investigation was carried out by the FBI with the help of NYPD Internal Affairs.

Authorities said the informant was an illegal immigrant who got money and help staying in the U.S. in exchange for his work.

The complaint noted that the information he provided was corroborated by wiretaps and tape recordings.

None of the items transported across state lines were actually stolen, but the tape excerpts released by the feds show the defendants were told they were.

The guns were rendered inoperable before they were given to the cops to smuggle - but Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Masso didn't know that.

The most disturbing aspect of this sting was that, according to the complaint, William Masso actually saw what he must have certainly believed were functioning guns," Kelly said. "It was a betrayal of the highest order of an officer's oath."

The officers were awaiting arraignment Tuesday afternoon.

At Ortiz's Brighton Beach home, relatives said they were stunned by the charges and hoped they were a misunderstanding.

He loves being a cop," said Tommy Rodenzo, 19, who dates the cop's niece. "He says there is no better reward than to help people."

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