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3 current, former NYPD cops took bribes to steer wrecks to tow firm, officials say

Mark J. Lesko, the Acting U.S. Attorney for

Mark J. Lesko, the Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, at the U.S Attorney's offices in Cadman Plaza, Brooklyn, March 25, 2019. Credit: Linda Rosier

Three current and former NYPD officers from Long Island were hit with federal charges Tuesday alleging they took thousands of dollars in bribes as part of a scheme to improperly direct damaged cars to one particular tow truck company, officials said.

According to a nine-count indictment unsealed in Brooklyn federal court, the officers — one of whom had retired in 2020 — were involved in the scam at various times from September 2016 through 2020.

The bribes, the indictment charged, were paid by a person identified only as "Individual 1" who ran a licensed towing company and auto repair business. The individual allegedly paid the cops in return for their bypassing a randomized system used by the NYPD to assign tow trucks to remove disabled vehicles and instead giving the business directly to the individual’s firm.

The two current NYPD officers charged in the bribery scheme indictment were Heather Busch, 34, of Massapequa, and Robert Hassett, 36, of Farmingdale, according to Mark J. Lesko, acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York. Both officers have been suspended without pay, the NYPD said Tuesday.

The former cop, Robert Smith, 44, of Plainview, was not only charged with participation in the tow truck bribery but also with Hassett with improperly accessing for cash NYPD databases to learn the identities of car accident victims, as well as allegedly taking $1,200 to provide armed security for a drug deal.

"Behavior like the type alleged today is a disgrace," NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said in a statement. "It erodes public trust in law enforcement and tarnishes the reputations of the many thousands of officers who honorably serve our communities on a daily basis."

According to the indictment and federal investigators, Smith and Hassett initially took part in the tow truck scheme in September 2016 and then temporarily suspended their involvement in June 2017. In November 2019, prosecutors alleged, Smith resumed his participation and continued to steer business to the tow truck company in exchange for cash.

As he approached a 2020 retirement date, Smith allegedly recruited Busch into the scheme in return for cash payments from the tow company, prosecutors alleged.

According to the indictment, Smith and Hassett on numerous occasions improperly accessed NYPD databases in order to get information about accident victims and relay the information to the "Individual" with the understanding that the data also would be sold to physical therapy businesses and personal injury attorneys.

It was unclear late Tuesday if the unnamed individual in the indictment who appeared to be a central player in the scam was a cooperating witness or undercover operative. If convicted of the various charges Hassett and Busch face 5-year prison terms on various bribery counts. Smith faces up to life imprisonment on the drug-trafficking charge, as well as 5 years for each bribery charge.

In a memorandum filed in court, federal prosecutors seeking to keep Smith in jail argued that the judge should ignore his background as a cop when considering his bail, citing a past conversation with another officer about his desire to see police die. The memo also cited his use of racial slurs and support of the Ku Klux Klan in calling for him to be held without bail.

Smith was ordered held without bail Tuesday, according to a spokesman for Lesko.

Hassett was released on a $200,000 bond and ordered to surrender his passport and any firearms. Busch had not appeared in federal court as of late Tuesday.

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