A former Suffolk police sergeant begged a judge Friday for mercy, tearfully apologizing to the Latino motorists he stole from, and to immigrants and police for reinforcing minorities’ distrust of law enforcement.
“Jail hasn’t been a place I ever thought I’d be,” Scott Greene, 52, of Shirley, told state Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho in Central Islip. “I know I’m my own worst enemy. I’m letting you know it’s been no picnic.”
Greene has been in jail for two months, since he was convicted of felony fourth-degree grand larceny and other charges. A jury acquitted him of more serious charges of grand larceny as a hate crime.
Authorities said Greene pulled over more than two dozen Latino motorists in the Farmingville area. Instead of giving them traffic tickets, he’d take cash, usually about $100.
Camacho sentenced Greene to 1 to 3 years in prison — less than the maximum of 1 1/3 to 4 years, but more than the 6 months of jail time Greene sought.
Before imposing the sentence, Camacho said he agreed with the jury that Greene didn’t commit hate crimes.
“I don’t believe Scott Greene hates Hispanics,” Camacho said. “I believe this was a case borne out of opportunistic bias.”
But that’s no better, the judge said, adding: “People who select those who are weaker are just cowards.”
Camacho said the conviction came because “decent, hardworking men came in here and did what you thought they would not do. They stood up for themselves. And because they stood up for themselves, the system worked.”
But advocates for the victims and the Latino community that Greene victimized in the Farmingville area until his March 2014 arrest said the system failed first when prosecutors were unable to win a conviction on hate-crime charges and again when the sentence was less than the maximum.
“We’re very disappointed,” said Irma Solis, an advocate who worked on behalf of the victims. “If he could be out in a year, we don’t believe it’s enough. It’s not enough.”
She was further disappointed to hear that Greene will plead guilty to another indictment charging him with another 20 theft cases, and that Friday’s sentence will cover those as well.
Nancy Trasande, an attorney for Manhattan-based Latino Justice who has sued Greene and Suffolk County in federal court, said the district attorney’s office botched the case by failing to consolidate the two indictments. If one jury had seen the scope of all that Greene did, it likely would have convicted him of hate crimes, she said.
Prosecutors did not respond to that claim.
Assistant District Attorney Joseph Carroll Jr. called the sentence “appropriate.”
“The defendant stole from the victims because he believed he could,” Carroll said.
Two of the victims wrote letters, which Assistant District Attorney Melissa Bliss read aloud to Camacho. Both victims said they are now anxious about appearing in public, fearing police will harass them and take their money.
One of them, Eligio Solano Perez, said he has nightmares and trouble concentrating. “Your honor, you can send a powerful message today in sentencing Sgt. Greene,” he wrote.
Defense attorney Scott Gross of Garden City urged Camacho to consider more than Greene’s worst acts.
“Look at the whole man,” he said. “If you do that, judge, there is hope for mercy. . . . I believe he’s done more good for society than bad.”
Greene, who had to pause several times to keep his composure, said he owed apologies to his family, to his victims and to police.
“I need to apologize to law enforcement as a whole,” he said. “I apologize to the victims and the communities I worked in.”
He said he “took immense pride” in being a police officer and pointed to a January 2003 fire in Coram that killed two little girls as the start of him losing empathy for others. He said he was close to rescuing the children when he had to turn back in fear of his life.
Greene told Camacho that a light sentence would allow him to redeem himself to the community he betrayed and to the family he’s let down.
“Allow me, your honor, to have the chance to prove I understand the pain I caused,” Greene said.
Camacho said he was particularly upset at how Greene has fed cynicism about police officers. It was repugnant, he said, that “for a few measly bucks” Greene targeted hard-working immigrants.
“They break their backs for a few hundred bucks a week,” he said. “This was the fruit of their sweat and their tears.”
Former Suffolk police Sgt. Scott Greene:
- “Ultimately, I put myself here in jail. . . . I took from those I was sworn to protect.”
- “It comes down to choices. We teach kids that good choices come with rewards and that bad choices come with consequences. Allow me, your honor, to have the chance to prove I understand the pain I caused.”
State Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho:
- “You have harmed your fellow police officers more than you know. You have done them immeasurable damage. You have made their jobs much more dangerous.”
- “Our criminal justice system is far from perfect, because it relies on human beings. In this case, flawed as it is, our system worked.”