Oct. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Federal prosecutors charged 12 men, including New York City police officers, in an alleged scheme to transport M-16 rifles and handguns with defaced serial numbers across a state line as part of a $1 million conspiracy.
The accused, who included eight active duty and retired police officers, also sought to transport stolen cigarettes and slot machines, according to a complaint unsealed yesterday in federal court in Manhattan. Five defendants are employed by the NYPD, the government said. Conversations recorded by an FBI informant revealed the conspiracy, according to the filing.
“A group of crime fighters took to moonlighting as criminals,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said yesterday at a press conference in Manhattan. He said they were paid more than $100,000 in cash for goods with a “street value” exceeding $1 million.
In one recording, New York City Police Officer William Masso, 47, of Brooklyn, told the informant he could provide current and former police officers for the scheme, the government said.
“Whatever he wants we get,” Masso said on the recorded conversation, according to the complaint. “You want a guy who beat the s--t out of somebody who bothers him, we got that. We got cops with vests and guns.”
Two of the defendants told a government informant they could provide firearms, according to the complaint. In September, they transported three M-16 rifles, a shotgun and 16 handguns, most of which had their serial numbers removed or altered, from New Jersey to New York, the government said. Masso took the weapons in a duffle bag in his car to a warehouse on New York’s Long Island, according to the complaint.
Besides Masso, the active-duty NYPD officers charged are Eddie Goris, Ali Oklu, Gary Ortiz and John Mahoney. The former police officers are Joseph Trischitta, Marco Venezia and Richard Melnik. The defendants include a New Jersey corrections officer, David Kanwisher.
New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said at the press conference that the police officers were arrested this morning and “immediately suspended.” He said the guns involved in the scheme had been provided by the authorities and made inoperable.
“The most disturbing aspect was that William Masso actually saw what he certainly believed were operational firearms,” Kelly said. “For what? Six thousand dollars. That’s the amount he was paid to transport the guns.” He got more money for the slot machines and cigarettes, Kelly added.
The four charges include conspiracy to transport firearms interstate, conspiracy to transport defaced firearms interstate, conspiracy to sell a firearm to an out-of-state resident and conspiracy to transport and receive stolen merchandise. They could be sentenced to 10 years in prison on the stolen merchandise count if convicted. The other charges carry five- year penalties.
The 12 defendants appeared in court yesterday and each was allowed to be released on a personal recognizance bond of $100,000. Masso will also be subject to electronic monitoring. The defendants are scheduled to return to court Nov. 28.
“The fact that these were inoperable guns does not change the fact, if the charges prove true, that the officers violated their sacred oath,” New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said in an e-mailed statement. “We will continue doing everything possible to take illegal guns off the street -- and to bring justice to anyone who seeks to sell or carry guns illegally.”
In 2009, the confidential informant contacted Masso about a plan to fix traffic tickets, according to the complaint. The informant learned that Masso was interested in obtaining and selling contraband goods, prosecutors said. Masso told the informant he had made $5,000 a week selling stolen cigarettes, according to the complaint signed by Special Agent Kenneth Hosey of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The defendants agreed to transport what they believed were stolen slot machines, estimated to be worth as much as $500,000, from Atlantic City, New Jersey, to New York, according to the complaint. They also broke into tractor-trailers in Virginia and stole what they believed were 270 cases of cigarettes worth $500,000, which had been supplied by an undercover source through the FBI.
The cigarettes were transported to a storage facility on New York’s Long Island. This month, Masso met an undercover source at a New York hotel and paid him $147,600 in cash as the source’s share of the cigarette heist, according to the complaint.
Kelly said the FBI informant brought the case to the attention of the New York police, whose bureau of internal affairs then became involved. The investigation is continuing, he said.
“This is very disturbing and disheartening,” Kelly said at the press conference. “The vast majority of police officers do outstanding work to protect the city.” The city employs 35,000 uniformed police officers, he said.
The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, parent of Bloomberg News.
The case is USA v. Masso, 11-02730, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
--With assistance from Chris Dolmetsch and Esme Deprez in New York. Editors: Charles Carter, Mary Romano
To contact the reporter on this story: Don Jeffrey in New York federal court at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at email@example.com