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Former NYPD sergeant from LI testifies at bribery trial of accused gun-license fixer

Former Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney John Chambers leaves

Former Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney John Chambers leaves federal court in Manhattan after being arrested on April 25, 2017. Credit: Charles Eckert

A former NYPD sergeant from Long Island testified Wednesday at the Manhattan federal court bribery trial of accused gun-license fixer John Chambers that he was paid $2,000 in cash taped into magazines to arrange preferential treatment for licenses in Nassau County.

Government witness David Villanueva, 44, of Valley Stream, said that in addition to fixing permits at the NYPD, he called in favors from Nassau police contacts for a race horse trainer and two brothers who owned a food company, but didn’t share payoffs with his Nassau contacts.

After they cashed in on the favors, Villanueva testified, Chambers e-mailed him, “If we play our cards right, you could potentially be looking at an extra $10,000 in cash in a 12-month period just for being my consultant in Nassau County.”

Chambers, a former prosecutor who established a law practice specializing in gun licenses, is accused of providing gifts -- ranging from Broadway tickets and expensive watches to cash – to Villanueva to get favored treatment for clients who had issues with their guns.

The gifts-for-guns trial began this week. Villanueva testified that Chambers was one of several license expediters who bribed him – including one man he met through a Nassau sergeant, and another with suspected mob ties who paid him to extend 15 Long Island licenses into the city -- and detailed favors he did for Chambers as a supervisor in the NYPD permit division.

But he said he was also able to exercise clout in Nassau, because he often worked closely with Nassau’s license cops on cases that involved both jurisdictions – like NYPD retirees who lived on Long Island, or holders whose scrapes with the law affected permits in both the city and Nassau.

While Chambers was unpopular among Nassau police, Villanueva said, he had developed good will to help with permits. “Once I told them he was a friend of mine, he was going to get it,” testified the ex-cop, who is hoping for leniency as a result of his cooperation.

In the case involving the racing trainer, Villanueva said, he arranged for a Nassau renewal for a Chambers client who had less need for a gun permit because he no longer handled as much cash as when he first got it.

In another case, he said, two wealthy brothers – Benjamin and Gerald Aquilina, owners of a pasta-sauce company – were able to expedite re-issue of their permits in a new corporate name.

Gerald Aquilina also appeared, testifying that he and his brother paid Chambers $35,000 to $40,000 to help with licensing at the NYPD and in Nassau. He said he knew Chambers had contacts, but mentioned nothing about Villanueva or alleged bribes, and seemed satisfied with the results.

“Is he still advising you?” a prosecutor asked. “He is,” Aquilina answered.

In a statement, a Nassau police spokesman said Wednesday, “There are times when situations occur that we will expedite applications to law enforcement members that will be retiring as well as other individuals who require their firearm for safety reasons.”

At the NYPD, Villanueva testified, he took bribes from Chambers for nine years to help clients with permit problems ranging from domestic assaults to unlawful discharges He said Chambers was protected by a retired captain who has not been prosecuted.

Chambers’ lawyers say he plans to testify, and contend that he legally paid Villanueva for his help in Nassau as a “consultant” while the gifts were given as part of a family friendship with Villanueva, not quid-pro-quo bribes. Villanueva called it a “transactional friendship.”

The trial resumes on Thursday.

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