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Prostitution ring with reach into Nassau raked in millions, officials said

Former vice cop, seven NYPD police officers face multiple charges in connection with a prostitution and gambling operation, officials say.

A retired NYPD vice detective and his wife ran a prostitution and gambling ring with brothels in Hempstead, Queens and Brooklyn, authorities said in court papers unsealed Thursday, a day after the department charged seven police officers for their roles in the scheme.

Ludwig Paz, 51, who retired in 2010, and his wife, Arelis Peralta, masterminded the gambling ring out of a deli, two hair salons and other locations in Brooklyn and Queens, the Queens district attorney's office said after the seven cops accused in both operations appeared in court. Paz faces a charge of enterprise corruption. The gambling ring included placing illegal bets on legal lotteries in the establishments, authorities said.

“There are 36,000 uniformed members of this service and this won’t be the first time I say not all of them deserve to wear the shield,” Commissioner James O’Neill said Thursday at a news conference at police headquarters in Manhattan.

The prostitution ring, which charged $40 for 15 minutes and $160 for one hour, raked in more than $2 million between August 2016 and September 2017, authorities said.

The seven police officers, facing enterprise corruption, official misconduct and other charges, pleaded not guilty Thursday morning and were released on their own recognizance. Paz was scheduled to appear in court in the afternoon, but information on his appearance was not available Thursday night. Two other officers weren’t criminally charged but were placed on modified assignment and could face administrative charges, officials said.

In Queens Supreme Court, prosecutors said some of the seven accused officers put fellow cops at risk by providing information about impending raids. The officers tipped off suspects about the raids, received cash for passing the information to Paz, and, in come cases, were provided free sexual favors, prosecutor Bradley Chain said in court.

The brothels operated on Front Street in Hempstead as well as in Queens on Liberty, and Onderdonk avenues and in Brooklyn on Gates, Foster and Fourth avenues and 42 Street, prosecutors said.

“They took an oath to serve and protect the public and they shattered those ideals,” Chain said.

He singled out Det. Rene Samaniego, based out of Brooklyn South Vice and facing two counts of enterprise corruption, for being the most “egregious” of the seven accused officers, providing brothel workers with detailed descriptions of undercover cops.

“The vast majority of NYPD police officers are honest and dedicated to enforcing and upholding the law,” Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said. “Today’s indictments of one former detective and seven current police officers of the NYPD dishonor the badge.”

The arrests and indictments of Paz, Samaniego, 43, the six other officers, and nearly three dozen others linked to the prostitution and gambling operations resulted from an investigation by the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau that began in April 2015 and involved hundreds of hours of surveillance, officials said.

None of the women who worked as prostitutes were victims of sex trafficking, according to police, but prosecutor Bradley Chain said a pimp coached one of them on what to say to prosecutors to deter them from pursuing a trafficking case.

Investigators believe Paz, 51, learned about running prostitution and gambling enterprises while working as a vice detective, police officials said.

“He was in vice the last part of his career, and we believe he familiarized himself with the operations of both the gambling and prostitution,” said Deputy Police Commissioner Joseph Reznick, head of the Internal Affairs Bureau, “and took favor to that type of business once he retired.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio said: "It's disgusting that they did that, and anyone who took that oath should never be engaged, obviously, in criminal activity, and it's unacceptable."

Sgt. Carlos Cruz, 41, charged with official corruption, is accused of aiding Paz in both the gambling and prostitution rings. Det. Giovanny Rojas Acosta, 40, charged with enterprise corruption, is accused of alerting Paz about law-enforcement prostitution probes, officials said.

Sgt. Cliff Nieves, 37, and his brother, Sgt. Steven Nieves, 32, are accused of operating a pop-up brothel for a bachelor party and were charged with promoting prostitution. Officer Giancarlo Raspanti, 43, charged with official misconduct, is accused of providing information in exchange for sex and Sgt. Louis Failla, charged with official misconduct, is accused of providing assistance to Paz after a raid.

“Everything we do in the policing profession is hugely dependent on the trust we build with the people who live and work in our neighborhoods,” O’Neill said. “Whenever officers betray that trust by engaging in criminal behavior, they tarnish the shields they wear. The New Yorkers we serve will never tolerate this, and neither will this police department.”

With Matthew Chayes

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