Jurors began deliberating Monday in the trial of gun-license lawyer John Chambers on charges that he paid bribes to fix firearms permits at the NYPD and in Nassau County after prosecutors scoffed at his claims that he showered a police sergeant with cash and gifts out of friendship.
“This friendship was corrupted — it was corrupted by both sides, and it was corrupted by an exchange,” said prosecutor Alex Rossmiller. “A steady stream of gifts for a steady stream of guns.”
Chambers, 63, a former Brooklyn prosecutor, is charged with bribing David Villanueva, 44, of Valley Stream, an ex-NYPD licensing section sergeant and the star government witness, to speed up permits and let Chambers’ clients with problems such as domestic violence keep their guns.
Evidence at trial last week showed Chambers gave gifts for nine years to Villanueva and his wife — from birthday dinners at Carmine’s and Broadway tickets, to expensive watches and presents for their kids — and paid $2,000 for Villanueva to use his influence with Nassau contacts.
But Chambers’ wife testified that, as a transgender man, Chambers valued Villanueva as one of his few male friends, and Chambers’ defense lawyer said Villanueva — who took bribes from several men — framed Chambers, a top gun lawyer, to enhance his bid for leniency by framing a “big fish.”
“There was no bribe, none,” defense lawyer Roger Stavis told jurors. “There were gifts, yes. And in hindsight a dirty, devious, clever cop transforms these gifts between friends, in the ultimate betrayal, transforms these gifts into bribes.”
In addition to expediting NYPD licenses, Villanueva testified that he helped Chambers resolve permit issues in Nassau County by calling in favors from Nassau police contacts in return for $2,000 cash — some of it in $100 bills taped in magazines sent to his home by Chambers.
Chambers, in text messages and emails introduced at trial, called those cash payments consulting fees. But prosecutors said the word was just a euphemism for a bribe, and argued that a friendship with Villanueva — even if it was real — was not an excuse for corrupt payoffs.
“Friendship isn’t a defense to bribery,” said Rossmiller. “In fact, who better to commit crimes with other than a person you are friends with?”
Jurors deliberated for three hours, and are to resume their deliberations on Tuesday.