James B. Dempsey, a former Nassau County detective whose infiltration of a narcotics ring in the late 1970s led to a $1 million drug bust, died Sunday of brain cancer. He was 61.
What began as a street purchase of two quaaludes eventually led Dempsey and his partner, Antonio Graziano, to the arrest of four dealers and the seizure of 197,000 tablets of the synthetic drug with a street value of $1 million in 1979, said his son, Brendan Dempsey, 28, of Lynbrook.
Dempsey and his partner also spent six months working undercover in an operation that resulted in 28 arrests in the same year and the shutdown of the Full Sail Inn in Bayville, where drug activities had drawn repeated complaints from residents.
"The officers sacrificed days off, vacation and holidays to solidify their undercover positions," Dempsey's colleagues at the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association inscribed on a plaque naming him and his partner 1979 Top Cop of The Year.
Dempsey's work was also honored by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and was entered into the Congressional Record, the official record of the nation's lawmaking body.
Dempsey was born in the Bronx on Feb. 8, 1952. His family moved in 1960 to Lynbrook, where Dempsey set down roots when he and his wife, Estelle Kelly Dempsey, 59, started their own family.
Dempsey attended Maria Regina High School, since renamed Kellenberg Memorial High School, in Uniondale for three years and worked odd jobs, such as delivering newspapers and waiting on tables, to pay his own tuition for the Catholic school, his son said. In his senior year, Dempsey enrolled at Lynbrook High School, where he graduated. He earned an associate degree from Nassau Community College. In later years, he took classes at Adelphi University while working.
"He always wanted to do better," Brendan said.
When a friend needed help, Dempsey was there to pour concrete for a new driveway. When neighbors needed their lawns mowed or snow removed, he volunteered. For close to a decade, Dempsey showed up to provide security each time Chaminade High School, his sons' alma mater, hosted a dance.
"He did these things not for recognition, but because it was the right thing to do," said his son.
Dempsey joined the Nassau County Police Department in 1972 as a cadet and became a police officer the following year when he turned 21. During a career spanning 37 years, Dempsey worked in several divisions, including robbery and asset forfeiture.
In addition to his wife and son Brendan, Dempsey is survived by two other sons, Terrence and Daniel, and two daughters, Sheila and Clare, all of Lynbrook; and four siblings, Thomas Dempsey of Chicago, and Jane Stewart, John Dempsey and Susan Chajkowski, 53, all of Lynbrook.
A wake will be Wednesday from 7 to 9 p.m. and Thursday from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. at Flinch & Bruns Funeral Home in Lynbrook.
Services are scheduled for 9:45 a.m. Friday at Our Lady of Peace Roman Catholic Church in Lynbrook. Burial will be in the Holy Rood Cemetery in Westbury.