Hempstead Village Deputy Police Chief Richard Holland is seen outside...

Hempstead Village Deputy Police Chief Richard Holland is seen outside the courtroom during a brief recess in his trial on bribery charges at the Nassau County courthouse in Mineola, Monday. Credit: Jeff Bachner

The bribery trial of Hempstead Village Deputy Police Chief Richard Holland began Monday with the prosecution alleging the veteran law enforcement officer bought his job by paying off a corrupt politician and that a series of wiretapped phone calls would prove it.

But the defense contended Holland, 50, merely made a campaign contribution to now-former Hempstead trustee Perry Pettus in May 2018 and that prosecutors used recorded conversations to reinforce the narrative they were looking to tell.

"This is not the story of a bribe … This is the story of politics," Holland's attorney, Jerald Carter, told Nassau County Court jurors in his opening statement.

A grand jury indicted Holland on a felony bribery charge that has him facing up to 2 1/3 to 7 years in prison if convicted.

Prosecutor Jesse Aviram said in his opening statement that Holland got caught bribing Pettus, a politician "who was the subject of an ongoing public corruption investigation" and whose calls investigators were monitoring on a court-authorized wiretap.

"He bought this job by bribing an unscrupulous politician," Aviram added of Holland's rank as the village police force's third-in-command.

Jurors didn't hear that Pettus, 65, is serving 2 1/3 to 7 years in prison after a 2020 sentencing that followed his guilty plea to offenses that included bribe receiving, grand larceny, conspiracy and official misconduct after six separate indictments.

By his plea, Pettus implicated other co-defendants in wrongdoing, including Holland and village Police Chief Paul Johnson — who has pleaded not guilty to an alleged ticket-fixing scheme.

The Nassau County District Attorney's Office claims Holland gave Pettus a bribe of at least $1,000 cash in May 2018 in exchange for a vote to promote Holland from lieutenant to deputy chief as village officials were evaluating candidates to fill three top police force positions after retirements.

Prosecutors claim Pettus and Holland separately drove to a South Hempstead restaurant parking lot on May 14, 2018, before Holland passed the money — wrapped in newspaper — out a vehicle window to Pettus as he sat in his own vehicle.

Investigators were listening when the two arranged during an intercepted phone call earlier that day to meet up, a location that Holland suggested should be "somewhere discreet," according to Aviram.

Then two Nassau district attorney's office investigators witnessed the meeting during a surveillance operation in which Holland "passed $1,000 in a newspaper to Perry Pettus," Aviram also told jurors.

The prosecutor acknowledged no money was seen changing hands, but said lead case detective Gavin Shea later confronted Holland about the exchange and Holland admitted giving $1,000 in cash to Pettus.

"He didn't call it a bribe … He called it a campaign contribution," Aviram said, recalling Holland's explanation.

A day before the alleged bribe, authorities intercepted another pivotal call, according to the prosecutor.

Aviram said it captured Holland telling Pettus he was "going to call him tomorrow and give him something" after Holland lobbied Pettus for promotion and Pettus talked about a different police official giving him $1,000 every time he ran for office.

On June 5, 2018, Pettus voted as a board of trustees member to promote Holland and Holland took his oath as deputy chief two days later, according to prosecutors.

Holland's attorney stressed Monday while fighting the bribery charge that investigators have discretion when deciding whether a conversation they are listening to on an intercepted phone line fits the criteria for monitoring as authorized by a judge's order.

Carter said investigators would stop recording a call if Pettus started talking about local Democratic officials or his concern about getting the Democratic line in an upcoming election.

The defense attorney added that jurors therefore wouldn't hear any of those relevant campaign-related discussions because investigators didn't consider that to be important to their probe.

That's how investigators lost the real narrative, according to Carter, who told jurors that Holland merely had asked Pettus for a favor.

"The optics are not the whole case," the defense attorney added.

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