Five months before David Laffer committed the worst robbery-murder in Suffolk County history, a detective warned the police department's pistol licensing bureau to take away his guns.
Despite the warning of Det. Kenneth Ripp, who interviewed Laffer at his home, the pistol bureau said Laffer could keep the guns -- including the registered .45 pistol Laffer used to later murder four people at Haven Drugs in Medford in June -- and that the bureau would investigate, according to a police report by Ripp obtained through a Freedom of Information request filed with the Suffolk district attorney's office. A separate report filed by his partner, Det. William Peeker, also shows that Ripp called the pistol bureau.
A highly placed law enforcement source said that Ripp, a decorated officer and former FBI special agent, was "adamant" about taking away Laffer's guns.
It is unclear whether any investigation ever took place.
At the time of the Father's Day shootings, which police said involved the theft of thousands of prescription pain pills, Suffolk Police Commissioner Richard Dormer called the killings "very difficult to comprehend." But the warning signs were apparent to Ripp on Jan. 12, when he and Peeker were investigating a complaint by Laffer's mother that $8,220 had been taken from her bank account.
The pistol bureau has wide latitude in confiscating guns, including whether a person is behaving in a manner that would cause "a normal, rational person to be fearful or threatened," according to Suffolk's pistol license handbook.
In an interview, Ripp's lawyer, Jeffrey Goldberg of Lake Success, said: "The police department had this guy and could have done something in January. It's not to say he couldn't have bought a gun on the street, but one of the guns used in the homicides was on his permit."
Seen taking boss' money
In addition to the Jan. 12 incident, police records report that Laffer was caught June 9 on a video camera taking $300 from his supervisor's purse at COSA Instruments in Yaphank. He was immediately suspended from his job as a shipping clerk, according to interviews. The supervisor said no criminal complaint was signed in the incident.
"Prior to the horrific murders at Haven Drugs, the Suffolk County Police Department received no information from any source indicating that Mr. Laffer was a drug abuser.
"Any information or allegations of acts of violence or illegal drug use brought to the attention of the police department would have been forwarded to the Pistol License Bureau, and would have caused an immediate investigation and a suspension of a pistol license issued to a person accused of either act."
Beginning on June 27, Newsday filed eight Freedom of Information requests for incidents related to Laffer, including the January incident, with the police department and Suffolk County. Newsday also conducted dozens of interviews with law enforcement sources and others familiar with all aspects of the case.
The June 19 murders of pharmacist Raymond Ferguson, pharmacy assistant Jennifer Mejia and customers Jaime Taccetta and Bryon Sheffield stunned the community and the nation for their randomness. All four victims had simply been going about daily routines in a neighborhood drugstore. Ferguson, 45, of Centereach, was working on his day off. Mejia, 17, a high school senior from Medford, was filling in for a co-worker. Taccetta, 33, of Farmingville, was running a quick errand. Sheffield, 71, of Medford, was picking up a prescription for his wife's heart ailment.
The killings also highlighted the growing scourge of prescription painkiller abuse. When Laffer and his wife, Melinda Brady, were arrested a few days later, police revealed the couple had planned the robbery to feed Brady's addiction to painkillers.
Enlisted in Army
Laffer, 33, is an Army veteran who was so eager to enlist in the military that he did it seven months before graduating from Patchogue-Medford High School in 1995. Brady, 29, graduated from Sayville High School in 2000. They married in 2009.
Laffer has pleaded guilty to five counts of first-degree murder -- one for each victim and one for the multiple murders -- and robbery. Brady pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery. Both are scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 17.
Brady and Laffer lived at his mother's modest home in Medford, in part to help her out with bills, according to sources familiar with the situation. Laffer's mother, Palma, had been widowed several years earlier and worked part time as a school aide.
On Jan. 12, 2011, Ripp and Peeker, who both work in the department's Identity Theft Unit, went to Laffer's home around 11:40 a.m. Palma Laffer had called police after discovering that someone had stolen her bank card and taken $8,220 from her bank account, according to records.
Before the detectives arrived, Laffer confessed to his mother that he had taken her bank card out of her wallet, withdrawn the money in numerous transactions and then returned the card to her wallet. Standing in her kitchen, distraught and crying, Palma Laffer refused to press charges against her son, the records show.
"I do not want him arrested and request no further action from the Suffolk County Police Department," Palma Laffer said in a statement she gave to police that day.
She did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Because Palma Laffer refused to press charges, no arrest was made.
Questioned on driveway
Ripp then asked Laffer to step onto the driveway and questioned him, according to police reports. Laffer told him that both he and his mother had registered guns in the home. Laffer told him the guns were secure in a safe, as required by law. Ripp then called the Pistol Licensing Bureau from Laffer's home and said the guns should be removed.
According to a police report Ripp wrote about the conversation, "P.O. [Kelly] Smith stated to undersigned that she would inform her supervisor of the nature of our investigation and the incident that took place. P.O. Smith stated that the weapons could remain in the home and that the SCPD Pistol Licensing Bureau would follow up with their own investigation in the future."
Smith did not return a call for comment. Her supervisor, Sgt. Michael Esposito, declined to comment. State records show that Esposito filed for retirement July 5.
Suffolk's Pistol Licensing Bureau, which reports directly to the commissioner, has discretion in revoking pistol permits. The department's Pistol License Information Handbook lists 21 grounds for suspensions or revocations, among them illegal use or possession of a controlled substance and behaving "in a manner that causes a normal, rational person to be fearful or threatened by the licensee having access to handguns."
In 2008, Ripp received the coveted Theodore Roosevelt Award, a police department award given to officers who have remained on duty despite a major physical handicap and who have rendered outstanding service to the department. Just one award is given each year in Nassau and Suffolk. Ripp, according to police department sources, suffered a broken femur and other bone fractures when he was tussling with a suspect and thrown over a railing and fell 9 feet. He also suffers from bone cancer. He is 39 and has been with the department more than 10 years.
"He grieves for the families," Goldberg said. "What's upsetting to him is maybe it could have been prevented. His own department let him down. He did the right thing, and nothing came of it."