A top Hempstead Village police officer and a village trustee were arrested and charged Thursday with a bribery scheme that involved a promotion from lieutenant to deputy chief.
Deputy Police Chief Richard Holland and Hempstead Village Trustee Perry Pettus appeared together in Nassau County Court in Mineola on Thursday morning. Holland, 47, was charged with bribery, and Pettus, 62, was charged with receiving a bribe and official misconduct, prosecutors said. Both face up to seven years in prison.
Pettus has been arrested twice previously on several charges, including witness tampering and receiving a bribe.
Holland and Pettus both pleaded not guilty and were released on their own recognizance. They and their attorneys declined to comment as they left court.
“This is the highest level of Hempstead government officials buying their offices, and it is something we will not tolerate in Nassau County," Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas said.
A grand jury returned an indictment Wednesday, prosecutors said.
Holland was promoted to deputy chief by the village board in June after previously serving as a Hempstead police lieutenant.
Prosecutors said Holland had frequently met with Pettus, asking to be promoted to a village chief.
On May 14, the two men met in their cars in a parking lot behind a South Hempstead restaurant, prosecutors said. Video surveillance shows Holland handing Pettus what prosecutors believe to be cash wrapped in newspaper, Singas said. Prosecutors believe the sum was at least $1,000, but could have been more, she said.
Holland admitted to district attorney investigators that he gave Pettus cash shortly before he was promoted, prosecutors said.
“Our contention is he essentially paid Mr. Pettus for that vote,” said Lisa Berk, senior assistant district attorney.
Pettus already faces multiple charges, including witness tampering and forging financial documents. He was initially indicted in July on charges that he used his elected position to extort local Hispanic business owners for protection.
Prosecutors have said Pettus took more than $25,000 in bribes while threatening to drive the store owners out of business if they didn’t pay for protection. Nassau County District Attorney officials said Pettus ordered village employees and the police department to target and ticket certain businesses. He has twice pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors have also charged William Mendez, who authorities said worked as an intermediary for Pettus and owns or has investments in four Hempstead bars and restaurants and fast-tracked permits and licenses through the village with Pettus’ help.
Pettus, who was first elected to the village board of trustees in 2002, has remained in office.
Hempstead Mayor Don Ryan said the board was "saddened by this new indictment."
"These are serious allegations, and we are committed to ensuring that the residents do not lose faith in Village government, and we will continue to work hard to maintain the residents' trust," Ryan said in a statement. "We will also cooperate with any investigation being conducted, as we strongly believe that criminal activity has no place in Village government."
Hempstead Assistant Police Chief Patrick Cooke said the department could not comment on the investigation, but said the department was cooperating with the district attorney's office.
The Village board unanimously voted June 5 to promote Holland to deputy chief and Lt. Paul Johnson to be acting chief. Both were hired in 1997. Ryan, Pettus and Deputy Mayor Charles Renfroe voted in July to promote Cooke.
Singas urged anyone with information, including Hempstead police officers, to come forward to speak with district attorney investigators. She said prosecutors would be examining the vote by the village board and how votes were cast to promote chiefs within the police department.
“The fact someone buying their position as deputy chief in the police department is something that’s very concerning and troubling to us in law enforcement, and we have to make sure our public remains safe and the most trained and qualified professionals lead these law enforcement agencies,” Singas said.