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Attorneys: Drug case plea bargains tied to Nassau DA's detective probe

Jerl Ferguson, 60, of Franklin Square, is shown

Jerl Ferguson, 60, of Franklin Square, is shown at the Nassau County Courthouse in Mineola on April 13, 2015 on his way back to jail after sentencing in his drug case. Credit: Newsday / Bridget Murphy

Two drug dealers with violent crime records had potential prison time slashed after Nassau prosecutors recently cut deals in cases connected to a detective who's under investigation.

Judges sentenced the dealers -- Jerl Ferguson, 60, of Franklin Square, and Hakeem Shabazz, 23, of Elmont -- to less than 5 years behind bars earlier this month.

Shabazz's attorney, Robert Schalk, said prosecutors cut a plea offer in half -- from 4 years to 2 -- after he was notified in writing of the district attorney's concerns about Nassau narcotics Det. Michael Cipullo.

"It was concerning obviously to have the detective who is accusing your client of committing a crime involved with potential wrongdoing," the Mineola lawyer said. "That allegation . . . led to, in my opinion, a reduction in the charges."

In sentencing Ferguson, Supervising Nassau County Judge Christopher Quinn suggested investigations into Cipullo influenced the deal. "I believe part of the reason the district attorney offered this deal was because of the issue with the cop," he said.

Ferguson's lawyer, Joseph Lo Piccolo of Garden City, said his client rejected a 3-year plea deal at first. A judge later ruled against him at a probable cause hearing, but after being notified of the Cipullo issue, prosecutors offered 4 years.

"I certainly think it was a factor," Lo Piccolo said of the investigation.

More plea deals could be coming as authorities continue to probe Cipullo's handling of drug cases.

"Every case presents a unique set of facts and numerous factors are considered before a plea offer is made," Shams Tarek, a spokesman for Acting District Attorney Madeline Singas, said Thursday in response to questions about whether Cipullo's involvement was a factor.

Newsday first reported in March that defense attorneys whose clients had unrelated open cases involving Cipullo began getting letters from prosecutors disclosing conflicting statements between his factual account of a 2014 drug case and his paperwork for it.

The district attorney's office and police internal affairs began scrutinizing Cipullo after authorities learned that a confidential informant the detective paid to buy 20 Xanax pills from a defendant in Oceanside in November wasn't part of the transaction. Cipullo later told prosecutors he bought the Xanax himself, although he still paid the informant.

Prosecutors said Thursday that 21 letters had been sent to defense attorneys about Cipullo.

Nassau police Deputy Insp. Gary Shapiro confirmed that Cipullo, a 25-year veteran, remains on desk duty during the probe. The police spokesman declined to comment on the two pleas.

Glenn Ciccone, the Nassau detectives' union president, also declined to comment on the plea deals, but called Cipullo "a stand-up guy" who is continuing to fulfill his police duties during the probe.

"He's doing his job. He comes to work every day," Ciccone said.

The head of Nassau's Criminal Courts Bar Association recently called on prosecutors to review all of Cipullo's cases going back at least five years, including closed cases.

The cases against Ferguson and Shabazz also were built on police work involving confidential informants, and involved allegations connected to either heroin or cocaine.

Shabazz had faced a mandatory minimum of 8 years and up to 17 years if convicted of the top felony charge, Schalk said. A judge on Monday sentenced Shabazz to two 2-year prison terms that will run at the same time.

Cipullo had signed complaints alleging in 2013 that Shabazz possessed and sold cocaine -- including more than a half-ounce of the drug -- on Raff Avenue in Elmont. Police also charged Shabazz in connection with alleged drug activity on Roquette Avenue in Elmont in 2014.

When Shabazz was 17, police arrested him in connection with a shooting on Roquette Avenue. He was convicted of criminal possession of a weapon in the 2010 case, records show.

In Ferguson's case, prosecutors dropped felony charges related to a heroin arrest in which Cipullo helped transport the confidential informant after an alleged 2013 drug buy around the Hempstead bus terminal.

But police also allegedly found him with heroin when they came to arrest him for the prior allegations. On April 13, a judge sentenced him to 4 years in prison.

Ferguson had faced a minimum of 6 years and up to 15 years if convicted of the top charge. He has a 1985 burglary conviction and has been incarcerated a dozen times, records show.

Eugene O'Donnell, a college lecturer and former NYPD officer and prosecutor, said the issue with Cipullo "makes a prosecutor take a much harder look at the case."

Of Ferguson and Shabazz, he said: "These are people with prior criminal records who are getting very sweet deals."

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