By Ashley Southall, Al Baker and Ali Winston,
[Update: It was a sweeping and complex criminal enterprise, prosecutors say. Read more.]
A three-year investigation ended Wednesday with the arrest of seven New York City police officers on prostitution, corruption and misconduct charges in connection with an illegal gambling and prostitution ring in Brooklyn and Queens, law enforcement officials said.
Two other officers, including a detective who until five months ago worked in the Internal Affairs Bureau, were stripped of their guns and shields and placed on administrative duty.
The police said that more than 40 civilians were also in custody or being sought in connection with the investigation, which began with an anonymous officer’s tip to the internal affairs unit in April 2015.
The arrested officers — three sergeants, two detectives and two officers — were indicted before they were taken into custody. They are suspected of providing protection for the ring’s activities in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and along Roosevelt Avenue in Queens, the police said. Area residents and public officials have long complained about brothels operating out of local homes, spas and bars, with new establishments popping up as quickly as the police shut the old ones down.
“Today, those who swore an oath and then betrayed it have felt the consequences of that infidelity,” the police commissioner, James P. O’Neill, said in a statement. “The people of this department are rightly held to the highest standard, and should they fail to meet it, the penalty will be swift and severe.”.
Mr. O’Neill said with the arrests, the internal affairs unit and the Queens district attorney have “sent a clear message: There is no place in the N.Y.P.D. for criminal or unethical behavior.”
The Queens district attorney, Richard A. Brown, said the officers are expected to be arraigned Thursday in State Supreme Court in Kew Gardens.
Police officials see the arrests as a successful effort to uproot rogue officers within department ranks. But the case is likely to test the Police Department’s will on transparency as inevitable questions emerge about any prior misconduct among the officers who have been arrested and others who are being questioned. Under Mayor Bill de Blasio, the city has asserted an expansive view of a state law shielding police disciplinary records from public disclosure, frustrating civil liberties groups.
The sergeants who were arrested on Wednesday are Carlos Cruz, 41, who worked in the detective squad in the 69th Precinct in Canarsie, Brooklyn; Louis Failla, 49, who was assigned to evidence collection in southern Queens; and Cliff Nieves, 37, an investigator in the Transit Bureau. They were taken into custody along with two detectives, Giovanny Rojas-Acosta, 40, who was assigned to the Central Investigations Division, and Rene Samaniego, 43, who worked in the vice squad in southern Brooklyn. Officers Giancarlo Raspanti, 43, of the 109th Precinct in Flushing, Queens, and Steven Nieves, 32, of the 84th Precinct in Brooklyn Heights were also arrested.
The police said Sergeant Cruz, Detective Rojas-Acosta and Detective Samaniego were being held overnight on enterprise corruption charges; Sergeant Nieves and Officer Nieves were charged with promoting prostitution. Sergeant Failla was charged with official misconduct, as was Officer Raspanti.
Two other detectives, Manuel Rodriguez and Rafael Vega, were stripped of their guns and shields and placed on administrative duty for violations of police rules, the police said. The police did not specify how the men ran afoul of department rules.
Detective Rodriguez previously worked in internal affairs and arrived in the 72nd Precinct just five months ago, according to a city official who discussed the investigation on the condition of anonymity. Detective Vega worked on investigations of criminal enterprises.
During the three-year inquiry, the police sent dozens of undercover officers to locations where the ring was thought to operate and conducted more than 300 hours of surveillance, the police said. Investigators also collected physical evidence and obtained court warrants to intercept the officers’ electronic communications, according to the police.
Arrests for prostitution have declined in recent years in the city, but it remains a stubborn problem in parts of Queens and Brooklyn. Arrest rates for prostitution offenses — including patronizing, promoting, compelling, permitting, loitering and sex trafficking — are higher in the two boroughs than elsewhere in New York City. Of the 2,019 prostitution arrests in the city last year, 641 were in Queens and 568 were in Brooklyn, according to police data reported to the state’s criminal justice agency.
The stretch of Roosevelt Avenue that extends through Corona, Jackson Heights and Woodside in Queens has been likened to Times Square of yesteryear, when it was an epicenter of vice. In Sunset Park on Wednesday evening, Luis Ludec, 60, a resident, said he has seen prostitutes working in the neighborhood.
“I’ve seen them at 5 a.m. on the corner,” he said, motioning toward 40th Street along Third Avenue. “You see the rubbers.”
He said the women tried to entice him, and asked him if he “wanted a date,” but he explained that he does not buy sex and is married. He said he last saw prostitutes in the area two weeks ago.
Ashley Southall, Al Baker and Ali Winston, , NYTimes, “7 New York Police Officers Arrested in Prostitution and Gambling Investigation, Authorities Say“, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/12/nyregion/nypd-gambling-prostitution.html