Feds: NYPD officer from LI accused in bribery case in plea deal talks
Federal authorities are heading toward a plea deal with one of the NYPD officers from Long Island indicted in May on charges they took thousands of dollars in bribes as part of a scheme to corruptly direct damaged cars to a tow truck company, a federal prosecutor said Thursday.
NYPD Officers Heather Busch, 34, of Massapequa, and Robert Hassett, 36, of Farmingdale, as well as retired Officer Robert Smith, 44, of Plainview, have pleaded not guilty to a nine-count indictment accusing the trio of receiving bribes for bypassing the NYPD's randomized system to assign tow truck drivers and instead giving the business to an unnamed person's company.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Harris, the deputy chief of the Public Integrity Section, said during a status conference on the case Thursday that prosecutors had made "significant progress" in the case and have now scheduled a "change of plea" hearing for one of the defendants on Aug. 5. Harris did not specify which defendant. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn declined to comment.
But U.S. District Judge Rachel P. Kover, during a brief status conference conducted by phone, questioned only the attorneys for Hassett and Smith about whether they had received discovery materials -- including video and audio recording evidence -- that Harris said had been provided to the defense.
Both Harris and the defense attorneys agreed on the discovery and asked the judge for a 60-day period to attempt to resolve the case without a trial. The judge set another conference for Sept. 22.
Defense attorneys for all three defendants, who were assigned to the 105th Precinct in Queens, did not respond to messages seeking comment Thursday. Busch and Hassett remain suspended without pay, said NYPD spokesman Sgt. Edward Riley. Smith retired from the NYPD in March 2020.
Smith and Hassett began the tow truck scheme in September 2016 and then temporarily suspended their involvement in June 2017, prosecutors have said. Smith allegedly recruited Busch into the scheme in return for cash payments from the tow company as he prepared to retire, 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 unnamed individual, knowing the data would be sold to physical therapy businesses and personal injury attorneys. Smith, who prosecutors said used racial slurs and expressed support for the Ku Klux Klan, was also charged with taking $1,200 to provide armed security for a drug deal.