AP: NYPD officers charged in ticket-fix probe

October 27, 2011 - 5:25 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — What began two years ago as a low-profile wiretap investigation of a New York Police Department officer has resulted in criminal charges against at least 16 officers alleging they abused their authority by helping family and friends avoid paying traffic tickets, two people familiar with the case said Thursday.

The officers were expected to be arraigned Friday in the Bronx, said the people, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because authorities hadn't announced the results of the grand jury investigation.

The people declined to detail the charges or name the officers. The Bronx district attorney's office declined to comment Thursday, as did Paul Browne, chief spokesman for the New York Police Department, and union officials.

The ticket-fixing case doesn't appear to rise to the level of the NYPD's more notorious corruption scandals. But in terms of the number of officers facing criminal or internal administrative charges, the probe represents the largest crackdown on police accused of misconduct in recent memory.

The charges against 13 police officers, two sergeants and one lieutenant are the latest in a spate of corruption allegations against NYPD officers. They include delegates with the department's largest and most powerful union, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.

Earlier this week, federal prosecutors in Manhattan brought conspiracy and other charges against five current and three former officers alleging they were part of a gun-running ring. In two other recent unrelated federal cases, one officer was charged with arresting a black man without cause and using a racial slur to describe the suspect, and another with using a law enforcement database to try to trump up charges against an innocent man.

As the ticket-fixing investigation unfolded, union officials complained that the probe unfairly singled out officers for an unofficial practice — undoing paperwork on traffic citations before they reach court — that has been tolerated for years.

"This issue could have and should have been addressed differently," Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, has said.

The case evolved from a 2009 internal affairs probe of a Bronx officer suspected of associating with a drug dealer, officials said. While listening to the officer's phone, investigators heard calls from people seeing if he could fix tickets for them, they said.

That led to more wiretaps that produced evidence of additional officers having similar conversations. An unrelated drunken driving case in the Bronx provided a window into the secret probe when prosecutors were forced to disclose to the defense that the arresting officer was among those recorded talking about ticket fixing.

According to a transcript of the tape, a union delegate tells an officer, "I'll get this taken care of" by having a ticket issued to a girlfriend of the officer's cousin pulled the next day.

Aside from those officers charged criminally, dozens more could face internal charges. In one disciplinary case already decided earlier this year, a former Patrolmen's Benevolent Association financial secretary in the Bronx admitted administrative misconduct charges and was docked 40 days of vacation and suspended for five days.

Last fall, the NYPD — which has about 35,000 officers, making it the nation's largest police department — installed new computer system that tracks tickets and makes it much more difficult to tamper with the paper trail.

Commissioner Raymond Kelly recently formed a new unit within internal affairs to look into ticket fixing. Its officers sit in on traffic court testimony and comb through paperwork to ensure none of the methods is being wrongly employed.

The last serious corruption scandal for the NYPD was the so-called "Dirty 30" case from the early 1990s. More than 33 officers from Harlem's 30th Precinct were implicated in the probe, with most pleading guilty to charges including stealing cash from drug dealers, taking bribes, beating suspects and lying under oath to cover their tracks.