New York Times
September 14, 2011


Charges Likely Within Weeks for Officers in Tickets Case

By JOSEPH GOLDSTEIN and WILLIAM K. RASHBAUM

A Bronx grand jury investigating police officers suspected of helping other officers' friends and relatives avoid paying traffic tickets is expected to issue criminal charges in the coming weeks against more than a dozen officers — a considerable number, but significantly fewer than originally anticipated, one lawyer involved in the case said Wednesday.

The criminal inquiry, which has cast a pall over the New York Police Department for the last five months, took an unsettling turn on Wednesday morning when a 62-year old police officer who had recently testified before the grand jury touched the third rail of an elevated train track in the Bronx, apparently in a suicide attempt, an official and people who knew him said.

The officer, Robert McGee, declined to talk to a reporter who visited him in his hospital room. He appeared animated and alert.

Officer McGee received immunity for his testimony before the grand jury last week and was not going to face criminal charges. It was not immediately clear what factor, if any, the ticket-fixing investigation played in his actions.

But to some police officers, including some who knew him and some who did not, the episode was proof of the severe strain that the investigation had placed on some veteran officers, who could suddenly find their careers facing ruin and their reputations threatened.

Since April, prosecutors from the Bronx district attorney's office have been presenting evidence to a grand jury about a culture in the department of so-called ticket-fixing. In some instances, traffic tickets were simply removed from a station house. In others, police officers would persuade their colleagues who wrote the tickets not to appear in traffic court or not to remember enough details to uphold the ticket.

The grand jury investigation is now expected to result in charges against more than a dozen police officers, most of them for crimes related to fixing tickets. The others face more serious corruption charges, a person briefed on the matter said. Earlier estimates of the number of officers who would face criminal charges, dating back to spring, ranged from about 25 to 40 officers.

Scores of others are likely to face internal disciplinary proceedings by the time the inquiry is finished; indeed, some already have. Some officers who were investigated have sought to retire.

Officer McGee, a former longtime delegate to the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association from the 43rd Precinct, had been placed on modified duty and had been stripped of his gun and badge, a person familiar with his status said.

Police union officials, like Officer McGee, have been ensnared by the dozens, because other police officers sought them out for help when they were trying to make a ticket for a friend or relative vanish.

The fallout from the investigation has created a morale problem on the patrol force, which no longer has much enthusiasm for ticketing drivers.

In an effort to crack down on ticket-fixing, the Police Department dispatched internal affairs investigators to monitor officers' testimony in traffic court. This has led many officers to write fewer tickets to avoid having to appear in traffic court.

In a statement on Wednesday, the president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, Patrick J. Lynch, said that it was "no surprise that New York City police officers have reached a breaking point," as the investigation had dragged on for months.

"Police Officer McGee has served this city well for over three decades and is a man of honesty and integrity, and he and others deserve better than this treatment," Mr. Lynch said.

Current and former police officers who know Officer McGee describe him as a gentle and generous person. One close friend called him the type of officer who is willing to "give you the shirt off his back." Rescue workers found him covered in soot and disoriented shortly before 5 a.m. at the 238th Street station on the No. 1 line, an official briefed on the matter said.

Steven Reed, a spokesman for the Bronx district attorney, declined to comment.

In addition to the investigation's impact on ticket issuance, it has had an effect on the operations of the Bronx district attorney's office. Some of the officers implicated were crucial witnesses in other criminal cases the office is prosecuting. Some defense lawyers have seized on evidence of ticket-fixing to undermine officers' credibility.

Rob Harris contributed reporting.