A Hempstead Village police officer is facing felony charges after his arrest Tuesday for allegedly stealing an encrypted portable police radio and trying to sell it to a towing company for $10,000.
Officer Robert Van Wyen, 32, of Islip, pleaded not guilty to felony charges of grand larceny and possessing stolen property, and misdemeanor charges of official misconduct and using the device without authorization.
The law enforcement official surrendered to the Nassau district attorney's office before acting State Supreme Court Justice Meryl Berkowitz set his bail at $20,000 during his court arraignment in Mineola.
Van Wyen's arrest comes as scandal continues to roil the Hempstead police force, following a deputy chief's bribery arrest last year and an officer's admission last week to misdemeanor charges that will require him to resign.
Records show he is accused of stealing the police radio sometime between January 2016 and March 2017, and that the Motorola device is worth more than $3,000.
Police officials use the portable radios to communicate with each other and the 911 communications personnel while responding to calls and doing investigations. The encrypted radio frequencies can't be heard on scanners available to the public.
The radio was stolen from the Hempstead police force and was equipped with encryption technology from the Nassau County Police Department, according to authorities.
Van Wyen's use of the device involved others who “aided and abetted” him and whom he's accused of "aiding and abetting," according to the indictment. Prosecutors said the investigation is continuing.
Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas said in a statement that access to confidential, scrambled police communications can "imperil the safety of law enforcement."
She said Van Wyen tried to sell the radio "for thousands in cash," calling his alleged actions "a betrayal of his oath as an officer" and "a crime against the taxpayers."
Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder released a statement saying, “Today’s arrest of Police Officer Van Wyen is part of a comprehensive investigation that will continue until the Police Department and District Attorney’s Office are positive that there are no other individuals and equipment associated with this case. At this time all of our radios and equipment are accounted for.”
A towing company could use a police radio to learn about vehicle crashes before competitors, potentially earning thousands as a result, according to prosecutors.
The district attorney's office said Van Wyen is facing up to 2 1/3 to 7 years in prison if found guilty of the top count against him.
Defense attorney Anthony LaPinta told the judge that Van Wyen has been a Hempstead police officer since 2010 and was shot in the line of duty in 2011. He said the officer won the department’s highest award after the shooting, which took place as his client apprehended a robber.
Van Wyen has been on disability for about a year after suffering injuries on the job unrelated to the shooting, La Pinta said.
The defense attorney said in court that Van Wyen was responsible for taking 10 guns off the street and also won accolades for saving a heroin addict from an overdose and a suicidal teenager. He released a statement calling Van Wyen "a special police officer who has bullet wounds to prove his bravery" and someone "who has been proudly protecting" Hempstead residents for nearly a decade.
"There's a natural tendency to hold law enforcement officers to higher standards in court, but like all others accused, Mr. Van Wyen is presumed innocent," LaPinta added.
The judge set the bond after a request from prosecutor Mary Ruddy, who did not detail the allegations against Van Wyen in court.
The officer ignored a request for comment while leaving court after immediately posting bail. He also had to surrender his passport. Hempstead police didn't immediately comment Tuesday.
Separately, Hempstead Village Deputy Police Chief Richard Holland pleaded not guilty to a bribery charge in November. Prosecutors have alleged Holland bought his position as deputy chief by paying at least $1,000 to Hempstead Village trustee Perry Pettus in May.
Pettus faces charges of bribe receiving and official misconduct in that case, and also is facing separate corruption charges following multiple indictments since last July.
Earlier this month, Hempstead police Officer Randy Stith, who also sits on the village’s school board, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges in a deal that requires him to resign from the police force this week.
The district attorney’s office had alleged Stith forged a letter of recommendation in 2015 on his application to become a police officer and made unauthorized cash withdrawals of more than $6,500 from a fire department bank account when serving as treasurer for the volunteer force from 2015 to 2018.
Stith pleaded guilty to third-degree possession of a forged instrument and petit larceny and is expected to be sentenced to three years of probation and community service.