Federal prosecutors in Manhattan on Tuesday announced charges against three former NYPD officers from Long Island for taking bribes from “expediters” to grease the wheels for gun licenses in multiple corrupt schemes that included favorable treatment on some Nassau County licenses.
Former NYPD Sgt. David Villanueva, 43, of Valley Stream allegedly took bribes, including an $8,000 watch from a lawyer in one scheme, to give favored treatment to NYPD applicants and also use Nassau police contacts to get expedited treatment on at least eight gun licenses there.
In another scheme, the government said, Paul Dean, 44, of Wantagh, an NYPD licensing division lieutenant, and Richard Espinel, 47, of Seaford, took bribes ranging from car repairs to prostitutes’ services and then retired and tried to corner the expediter market because it was so lucrative.
Taken together, federal and police officials said at a news conference, the schemes led to more than 100 licenses being improperly granted — including some to people with records for assault, brandishing a weapon and domestic violence — and revealed a system pervaded by corruption.
“Corruption at the License Division spawned a cottage industry of parasitic profiteers, alleged bribers masquerading as so-called expediters,” said acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon Kim. “ . . . The critically important police function of issuing and controlling gun licenses was one they were willing to pervert for personal profit.”
“I am absolutely appalled,” said NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill, who promised reforms in the licensing process, including a ban on dealing with expediters who get fees from applicants.
Last year, the government charged Villanueva and another officer with taking bribes for licenses from an expediter for an Orthodox community patrol in Brooklyn, Alex Lichtenstein. Tuesday’s court filings revealed that Villanueva had pleaded guilty and was cooperating with prosecutors, along with Frank Soohoo, 55, a Queens gun dealer and expediter.
One new complaint filed Tuesday charged Manhattan lawyer John Chambers, 62, a former Brooklyn prosecutor using the website address “nygun.com,” with providing bribes to Villanueva ranging from sports tickets and memorabilia and an $8,000 Paul Picot watch to meals and cash to provide help on NYPD and Nassau license applications from clients.
The complaint said Chambers mailed Villanueva $500 in cash three times hidden in magazines for help on three Nassau licenses. Villanueva used NYPD official stationery to get expedited treatment, it said, and in one email exchange about getting help in Nassau from a police contact, Villanueva wrote, “We def have a friend.”
In response, Chambers wrote, “If we play our cards right, you could potentially be looking at an extra 10K in cash in a 12 month period, give or take . . . just for being my Nassau Co. ‘consultant.’ ”
No one from the Nassau police department was named or charged with being in on the schemes, but Kim described the investigation as “ongoing.” He declined to comment on any coordination of the investigation with Nassau police.
A Nassau police spokesman, asked if the department was aware of any misconduct by its officers, said only that the pistol license section “routinely works with other law enforcement jurisdictions as we process over 10,000 Pistol Licenses annually.”
Another new complaint charged Gaetano Valastro, 58, an ex-cop and Queens gun shop owner, with paying bribes for help on licenses to Dean, 44, of Wantagh, an NYPD license division lieutenant, and Espinel, 47, of Seaford, a license division officer.
Along with prostitutes, the two cops allegedly got meals, liquor, beer and soda, car repairs, trips to strip clubs, cash, baked goods and services at a pizzeria from Valastro and others.
Dean and Espinel, the government said, eventually concluded that expediters were charging so much to clients and making so much money that the two cops decided to retire in January 2016, and become expediters themselves, working with Valastro and Villanueva to try to corner the business.
Dean, Espinel, Valastro and Chambers, all arrested at 6 a.m., looked weary during brief hearings in Manhattan federal court, and tried unsuccessfully to dodge photographers after they were released.
They did not enter pleas, but lawyers for Dean, Espinel and Chambers all said they weren’t culpable.
Leaving court, Chambers was the only defendant to comment, telling reporters, “I’m not saying nothing.”