Wall Street Journal
Oct. 29, 2011


Officers Indicted Amid Supporters

By SEAN GARDINER, PERVAIZ SHALLWANI and ALISON FOX

Prosecutors unsealed indictments against 16 New York City police officers on Friday, the culmination of a two-year investigation into the ingrained and widespread culture of ticket-fixing among the ranks of the nation's largest police department.

The defendants, including two sergeants and a lieutenant, were arraigned in Bronx Supreme Court, and most were cheered by throngs of officers lining the hallways and jamming the street outside the courthouse as they left. Ten officers were charged with crimes related to ticket-fixing; five were charged with crimes other than ticket-fixing. One was charged with both.

In all, the investigation resulted in 22 indictments accusing 21 people—including five civilians—of more than 1,600 crimes.

The allegations were included in hundreds of pages of court papers and laid bare a practice so commonly accepted in the NYPD that many members don't consider it wrong. Several off-duty officers outside the courthouse held signs reading, "It's A Courtesy Not A Crime."

About another 100 officers are expected to face departmental charges, and 120 will likely lose vacation days, said NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly. More could follow, he said.

"Police officers have had, and continue to have, certain latitude and discretion in issuing summonses," Mr. Kelly said Friday. "But that discretion does not extend, and was never intended to extend to the destruction or altering of officials records, such as summonses, or their testimony after the fact."

More: Ticket-Fixing Charges Are Minor Among NYPD Corruption Scandals

   

Bronx District Attorney Richard Johnson estimated the tickets that had been fixed during the scope of the probe cost the city between $1 million and $2 million. "This is felony conduct," Mr. Johnson said. "This is criminal conduct."

Union officials insisted prosecutors had overstepped in charging the officers for extending favors to family, friends and the well-connected, often times on the orders of their supervisors. "To take a courtesy and turn it into a crime is wrong," said Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.

Officials with the sergeants' union have promised to reveal the names of prominent people whose tickets were fixed.

The investigation did not begin as an inquiry into ticket-fixing. It grew out of a 2008 tip that marijuana was being dealt out of one of two Bronx barbershops owned by Officer Jose Ramos, a prosecutor disclosed on Friday. Investigators alleged that Mr. Ramos used his own name to help the alleged drug dealer, who was managing the barbershops, lease a car and rent an apartment.

The arrested civilians include Mr. Ramos's wife, who was charged with insurance fraud.

In 2009, Mr. Ramos, then a union delegate, was heard on a wiretap allegedly trying to fix a ticket for a friend, prompting the probe into the practice.

Starting early Friday morning, 15 of the officers surrendered to the Bronx District Attorney's office. Mr. Ramos was arrested Thursday after leaving a parent-teacher meeting at his child's school in Inwood. He pleaded not guilty and was ordered held on a $500,000 cash bail. His wife also pleaded not guilty and was released.

John Sandleiter, Mr. Ramos's lawyer, said his client "is the one they put in the middle of this circus. This is not a $500,000 [cash bail] case. He's charged with nonsense."

Nine of the police officers, all from Bronx precincts and most of them current or past union delegates, were charged only with crimes connected to ticket-fixing: Eugene O'Reilly, 39, Christopher Manzi, 36, Brian McGuckin, 44, Jamie Payan, 37, Luis Rodriguez, 43, Virgilio Benscome, 33, Michael Hernandez, 35, Jason Cenizal, 39, and 46-year-old Joseph Anthony.

All pleaded not guilty and declined to comment after they were released.

One indictment offered a glimpse into the intricate way tickets were "fixed," meaning they are thrown out or an officer agrees not to testify. On Aug. 24, 2010, Mr. Anthony called an unidentified police officer who "agreed to interfere with the lawful disposition of a summons," the indictment read.

The next day, the officer who had written the ticket sent a text message to Mr. Anthony confirming a summons had been issued and processed. Several more phones calls were made between Mr. Anthony and the two officers, and on Sept. 6 he received a text message from the first officer confirming that the ticket would not go forward.

Mr. Kelly said over the past year the NYPD has instituted an electronic summons tracking system to increase the documentation and accountability of summonses.

Mr. Ramos and five other officers were charged with other crimes. Lt. Jennara Cobb, who had worked in internal affairs, pleaded not guilty to leaking information about the case and other charges. It was alleged the 36-year-old lieutenant tipped off three police officers about the ticket-fixing investigation.

Officer Christopher Scott, 41, is alleged to have interceded on behalf of a friend who allegedly assaulted a man in front of a Bronx paint store. Officers Ruben Peralta, 45, and Jeffrey Regan, 37, and Sgt. Marc Manara, 39, were alleged to have left the man alone at Mr. Scott's behest. They pleaded not guilty.

Mr. Ramos's partner, Sgt. Jacob Solorzano, 41, pleaded not guilty to faking an arrest to help Mr. Ramos rob a man he had been told was in New York to buy stolen property. Both men were in uniform at the time. Mr. Ramos is alleged to have taken more than $30,000 from the man in what turned out to be an internal sting, officials said.

Mr. Solorzano's attorney, John Patten, said his client had nothing to do with the robbery.

In another sting operation, Mr. Ramos allegedly stole $20,000 from the hotel room of a man he thought dealt drugs.