http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/313584

Sixteen NYPD officers arraigned on ticket fixing scandal

Posted Nov 2, 2011 by Shawn Kay
This past Thursday evening and Friday morning 16 NYPD officers surrendered to prosecutors at the Bronx courthouse to face criminal charges stemming from a ticket fixing scandal. Meanwhile, hundreds of officers staged a rally in support of those arraigned.
File photo: NYPD officers and sergeants being debriefed by lieutenant (in white shirt) in Times Squa...
File photo: NYPD officers and sergeants being debriefed by lieutenant (in white shirt) in Times Square, Midtown Manhattan
Nightscream
Prosecutors have dropped the hammer on sixteen NYPD officers who were indicted this past Friday morning at the Bronx criminal courthouse in relation to their role in a massive ticket-fixing scandal that has rocked the police force.
The Bronx District Attorney's Office unsealed a sweeping indictment against the 16 officers who are charged with a barrage of felonies that include: conspiracy, larceny, forgery, tampering with public records, official misconduct, perjury and obstruction of justice.
Among those involved are two sergeants, a lieutenant and several police union delegates.
According to Bronx DA Robert Johnson, the officers utilized various methods to render tickets legally irrelevant or make them disappear altogether.
Officers would reportedly either physically remove tickets from the precinct stationhouse after they'd been written or doctor them so the tickets would be dismissed.
In other cases, the cops would call officers who had written the summonses and tell them to lie under oath so that the cases would be dismissed.
According to prosecutors, the cops reportedly cost the city between $1 million and $2 million in lost revenue from the tickets they fixed.
Most of the people the officers reportedly fixed tickets for were relatives and friends or friends of relatives and friends. In other cases the officers are alleged to have accepted bribes from wealthy businessmen and politically well-connected local figures to fix their tickets. The bribes typically included money, free meals and even Yankee tickets or other expensive gifts.
The charges against the officers are the culmination of a three-year investigation by the Bronx DA's office and the NYPD's Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB).
Officer Jose Ramos, the original target of the massive probe, was arrested this past Thursday evening as he left a parent-teacher conference for his stepdaughter.
Ramos and his purported relationship with a local Bronx drug dealer by the name of Lee King served as the catalyst for the sweeping probe.
While investigating the rouge officer's ties to the drug dealer, investigators caught Ramos on a wiretap talk about fixing tickets, thus sparking the larger probe.
Ramos, though an officer sworn to enforce the law showed no regard or respect for it and even displayed utter contempt.
On one secret recording by authorities the rouge officer is heard telling a drug dealer, "I stopped caring about the law a long time ago."
Bronx prosecutor Omer Wiczyk noted that Ramos had even once boasted that, "he could carry a dead body in the back of his car and get away with it because he was a cop."
During Ramos' indictment, the Bronx DA's office revealed that the delinquent officer even offered his police patrol car to help a drug trafficker move a large stash of heroin out of Manhattan.
Wicsyk told a judge and packed courtroom that Ramos sold his shield and violated his oath.
The other 15 officers besides Ramos ensnared in the indictment include:
*Joseph Anthony
*Virgilio Bencosme
*Jason Cenizal
*Jennara Everleth-Cobb
*Michael Hernandez
*Marc Manara
*Christopher Manzi
*Brian McGuckin
*Eugene P. O'Reilly
*Jaime Payan
*Ruben Peralta
*Jeffrey L. Regan
*Luis R. Rodriguez
*Christopher Scott
*Jacob G. Solorzano
Though the corruption probe is largely centered in the Bronx and is being spearheaded by the DA's office in that borough, the NYPD officers charged in the indictment are from various NYPD precincts and units from throughout New York City's five boroughs.
The probe has had a lasting adverse effect on the entire police force. In one notable incident related to the joint Bronx DA and IAB inquiry into ticket-fixing, NYPD officer Robert McGee was forced by prosecutors to testify before a grand jury this past September about the scandal. McGee, who according to prosecutors had fixed at least a dozen tickets himself, was given immunity for testifying and not expected to be among the officers facing criminal charges. However, he became distraught over the possibility he might have to testify against fellow officers at trial and attempted suicide by touching the third rail on subway tracks in the Bronx. McGee survived and was briefly hospitalized for injuries he incurred in that incident.
A few weeks after that suicide attempt, relatives called 9-1-1 after the troubled McGee went missing but was later found by paramedics and police officers responding to the family's emergency call.
Fearing that McGee was contemplating another attempt on his life, relatives and emergency responders admitted him to the psychiatric ward at North Central Bronx Hospital. He currently remains there on a 24-hour suicide watch by nurses and doctors.
One Bronx law enforcement source told the New York Daily News that the morale and even mental health of NYPD officers has been significantly affected by the ticket-fixing inquiry and other scandals.
The source reportedly said that many officers he worked with are depressed and that morale is at an all-time low for the entire NYPD.
Officer Derails Promising Career In Choosing To Side With Scandal Officers
With the exception of Ramos, Lieutenant Jennara Everleth-Cobb is perhaps the most interesting and tragic character in this saga.
Lt. Everleth-Cobb, the highest ranking official to be ensnared in the prosecution's probe and also the only female, was once a well-respected member of the NYPD. The lieutenant was a former spokeswoman for the NYPD and was reportedly a rising star who was on the fast track to becoming a captain.
Everleth-Cobb was initially not a target of the DA's probe. In fact, she was a member of the Internal Affairs Bureau or IAB and was originally on the side of the prosecution and her fellow Internal Affairs detectives investigating the ticket fixing scheme.
The IAB is strongly disliked by NYPD cops due to the fact it investigates incidents and plausible suspicions of lawbreaking and professional misconduct attributed to officers on the force. Many IAB investigations result in officers being disciplined, fired and even imprisoned. In the NYPD, IAB is commonly referred to as "the rat squad" and anyone working in that unit of the police force is looked upon with disdain and socially isolated by other officers.
For whatever reason Everleth-Cobb chose to derail her promising law enforcement career by becoming a double-agent.
She reportedly began leaking details about the investigation to police union officials, warning them of who was being targeted by the probe and when IAB planned to carry out raids to bust delinquent officers involved in the scandal.
The lieutenant was recorded on several occasions divulging confidential information about the probe to the police union. Prosecutors say she endangered the entire investigation.
Though she would have initially been considered a "rat" for her work in Internal Affairs, Everleth-Cobb has redeemed herself in the eyes of her fellow officers though at the expense of her career and quite possibly her freedom should she be convicted.
Officers Stage Rally In Support Of Their Brethren, Threaten Prosecutors
As the legal drama played out in the courtroom, several hundred officers outside sought to rationalize the alleged criminal behavior of the 16 cops.
The protesting officers were lead by Patrolmen's Benevolent Association (PBA) officials who organized the rally. The sea of angry officers lashed out at police commissioner Ray Kelly, the NYPD leadership and Mayor Michael Bloomberg for conducting the probe.
The officers do not view ticket fixing as a crime, rather they view it as a "professional courtesy."
The PBA is a organization that provides labor and legal counsel to NYPD officers.
PBA president Patrick Lynch, who was present at the rally, noted that fixing tickets has been a long-time practice that is deeply entrenched within the culture of the NYPD. Lynch says to the New York Post that ticket fixing is
accepted at all lengths and for decades.
He further said
The fact that a courtesy has now turned into a crime [is] wrong.
The estimated 500 protesting officers chanted and held signs that read, "It's a courtesy not a crime!"
However, in comments to the news media, police commissioner Ray Kelly disagreed strongly with the viewpoint of the PBA and it's supporters.
Those actions are crimes under the law and can't be glossed over as 'courtesies' or as part of an acceptable culture. They are not. Those who try to rationalize them as such are kidding themselves.
One reporter also asked the police commissioner if he had ever fixed any tickets. Kelly, who began his law enforcement career as an NYPD officer in the 60's replied
No. And if I was approached, I'd say no.
There were tense and frightening moments as many of the officers became rowdy and even hostile towards prosecutors making their way toward the courthouse. In a clear effort to intimidate them, prosecutors told the New York Daily News that angry officers called them "cowards" and even threatened them. Wicsyk told reporters he was spat upon by one officer.
The prosecutors said that they intended to file a complaint with the NYPD over the harassment.
Though prosecutors were the primary object of the protesting officer's scorn, they were not the only targets. Officers jeered reporters covering the rally and in one particularly mean-spirited gesture began chanting taunts at people lined up at a benefits center across the street from the courthouse. A police official told The New York Times that the commissioner does not condone the acts of hostility by the officers at the rally towards the public. The official who wished to remain anonymous to avoid any backlash from fellow officers was also quoted as having said
To begin ridiculing people in the welfare line across the street doesn’t endear you to the public eye.
Criminal justice experts and NYPD watchers say that the ticket fixing controversy as well as various other recent scandals are likely to have an adverse effect on the public's trust in the police force.
In a statement to The New York Times, Eugene O'Donnell, a law and police studies professor at Manhattan's John Jay College of Criminal Justice, weighed in on the officer's actions at the rally and the potential adverse effect they could have on police-community relations
It is hard to see an upside in the way the anger was expressed, especially in Bronx County, where you already have a hard row to hoe in terms of building rapport with the community
He went on to say
The Police Department is a very angry work force, and that is something that should concern people, because it translates into hostile interactions with people.
All of the officers, with the exception of Ramos, were released without bail after their court appearance and are currently awaiting trial. Ramos, who faces the most serious charges in the scandal remains in jail, unable to pay the $500,000 bail imposed upon him by the court.
Ramos, an officer with the NYPD's 40th precinct in the Bronx is facing charges that include: attempted grand larceny, attempted robbery, attempted heroin possession as well as charges related to his selling of bootleg videos out of a Bronx barbershop he owns.
The DA's indictment against Ramos can be read here.
Ramos has pleaded not guilty to the charges before him.
Wanda Abreu, the wife of Ramos, was also arrested on a related fraud charge. She is reportedly one of five persons who are not NYPD officers ensnared in the indictment.