68th Precinct officers arrested in FBI sting on illegal gun smuggling

October 25, 2011 Heather Chin
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An FBI sting operation has resulted in the arrest of a dozenpeople, including three current NYPD officers and three retiredofficers from Brooklyn’s 68th Precinct, for allegedly smugglingover $1 million worth of illegal guns and various stolen andcounterfeit goods from New Jersey to New York via the VerrazanoBridge.

The stunning news came on the morning of Tuesday, October 25,when the FBI, along with Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for theSouthern District of New York, and NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly,announced the arrest of the officers – plus a cop from the 71stPrecinct, a Brooklyn South Task Force officer, a Sanitation cop, aNew Jersey corrections officer, and two civilians from NewJersey.

The criminal complaint filed on Tuesday inManhattan federal court details the charges against the 12individuals and their alleged criminal misdeeds, which are said tohave been caught on tape by a confidential FBI informant.

Those arrested were Police Officers William Masso, Eddie Gorisand John Mahoney of the 68th Precinct; retired Police OfficersJoseph Trischitta, Marco Venezia and Richard Melnik, formerly ofthe 68th Precinct; Police Officer Gary Ortiz of the 71st Precinctin Crown Heights; Brooklyn South Task Force Police Officer AliOklu; and former Sanitation Police Officer Anthony Santiago.

New Jersey corrections officer David Kanwisher and twocivilians, Michael Gee and Eric Gomer, were also arrested. Ifconvicted, the 12 – who range in age from 26 to 47 – face between10 and 25 years in prison.

Masso was allegedly the group’s ringleader and, according to thecomplaint, started the operation back in 2009 by contacting theinformant – said to be an undocumented immigrant – for help tofix traffic tickets. By early 2010, the group had allegedly movedon to discussions about selling illegal cigarettes and othercontraband.

According to the complaint, from September 2010 onwards, some orall of the 12 men conspired to transport firearms over interstatelines, to transport defaced firearms, and to transport and receivestolen merchandise. The items include stolen slot machines;firearms including three M-16 rifles, one shotgun and 16 handguns,the majority of which had their serial numbers removed or altered;and stolen cigarettes and counterfeit goods.

Reaction reflected shock across the board.

I am dismayed and disappointed by the alleged activity byseveral officers of the local precinct – not only because of itscriminality, but also because it subtracts from the good work doneby the majority of police officers at the 68th Precinct, saidCouncilmember Vincent Gentile in a statement.

Our city has lost too many people – and too many policeofficers – to criminals who buy guns illegally, said Mayor MichaelBloomberg. The fact that these were inoperable guns does notchange the fact, if the charges prove true, that the officersviolated their sacred oath.

Residents were also shocked upon hearing the allegations againstpeople who they knew and had worked with for years.

I recognized their names and was absolutely shocked, but Idon’t have any sympathy if they did it, said Larry Morrish, whoco-founded the BRAVO volunteer ambulance service in the 1970s andhas worked closely with local cops since. You’re talking aboutweapons. Just look in the [newspaper], teenagers shooting women onthe streets. It’s beyond a mortal sin with the guns.

I was absolutely shocked and saddened by the whole thing, butif these individuals did what they allege they did, it shouldn’treflect poorly on the police department or precinct itself, saidFran Vella-Marrone, president of the Dyker Heights CivicAssociation. If there’s an issue we need assistance with at anytime, they come out and go above and beyond what they are supposedto do.

Going forward, the 68th precinct will continue the amazing workthat they’ve done, continue to keep our community safe, said IleneSacco, president of the 68th Precinct Community Council. Thishasn’t stopped the goal. The public should still have trust in[our] precinct. You can’t let something that happened put a bad eyeon all of them.

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