The former Suffolk County police sergeant who had been accused after a sting of stealing from a Hispanic motorist now faces hate crime charges as a result of a half-dozen other drivers' identifying him as the officer who pulled them over and stole their cash, prosecutors said Monday.
Sgt. Scott A. Greene, 50, of Shirley, who retired last month, pleaded not guilty to six counts of fourth-degree grand larceny as a hate crime and other charges. If convicted, he faces a maximum of 151/3 to 46 years in prison.
State Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho allowed Greene to remain free with no bail. He was escorted to and from the courtroom by court officers through a back hallway.
"This defendant has used the authority of the badge as purely a thief's motive," Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said outside court. "In our view he was clearly targeting Hispanics who he knew were prone to carry cash" and were unlikely to report the thefts.
Greene's attorney, Timothy Mazzei of Blue Point, declined to comment.
The sergeant was arrested Jan. 30 after he was recorded on video taking $100 cash from an envelope on the front seat of a car driven by a Hispanic undercover detective, Spota said.
Spota said he assigned nine investigators and two prosecutors -- all Spanish speakers -- to look into the case after two residents complained to his office about an officer stealing from them. Based on their description and a review of police radio and GPS data, Spota said his office focused on Greene. "It became fairly clear to us that this was not the first time Sgt. Greene had done this," he said.
In a statement, the Suffolk police department said: "If there is any good that can come out of today's developments, it is that the department wants the Latino community to know that when a complaint is received, it is treated seriously, and it will be investigated fully. The SCPD will continue to work closely with the District Attorney's office regarding the investigation," into Greene.
Spota said Greene targeted vehicles with out-of-state plates and Hispanic occupants in the Granny Road area. The officer would pat them down and take their wallets, ultimately taking cash, about $50 or $100 -- a total of less than $1,000 -- from 2010 to 2013, Spota said.
After the publicity of the Jan. 30 arrest, Spota said 22 people came forward, telling of nearly identical encounters. Six of them identified Greene.
Spota said the investigation is still active and asked potential victims to call 631-775-2077. He said there's no evidence other officers were involved but authorities haven't ruled it out.
The district attorney also thanked the Brooklyn-based advocacy group Make The Road New York for encouraging victims to come forward. Spota emphasized victims should not fear retribution or concern over their immigration status. "Some of them couldn't believe this could happen," said Irma Solis of Make The Road New York.
Laura Huizar, an attorney for LatinoJustice PRLDEF, said her group represents 14 victims of police shakedowns in Suffolk.
Huizar and Solis called the DA's efforts a good first step but hoped the probe will go beyond Greene. "We are calling for a more comprehensive, more complete investigation" of the Suffolk police department, Huizar said. "Our clients are afraid to drive in Suffolk County."
Greene's retirement allows him to collect his pension, which is protected by state law even if he is convicted. Spota said he had little hope of success for a bill to change the law. "As you know, a lot of legislators are under indictment, so I hardly think that bill is going to pass," he said.
With Victor Manuel Ramos