Nassau police Det. Hector Rosario, of Mineola, who was among...

Nassau police Det. Hector Rosario, of Mineola, who was among those charged, leaves the Federal Courthouse in Brooklyn Aug. 16. Credit: John Roca

When local law enforcement leaders spoke about the arrests of eight members connected to the Genovese and Bonanno crime families and one Nassau cop, the prose was purple enough to suggest a heinous crime wave staunched.

Breon Peace, United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said “the Mafia continues to pollute our communities with illegal gambling, extortion and violence, while using our financial system in service to their criminal schemes.”

Based on the federal indictments released last week, four things allegedly happened:

  • Lots of gambling on illegal poker and slot machines in backrooms of small businesses and clubs in Queens, Nassau and Suffolk.
  • Illegal online bookmaking.
  • A gambling boss ordered an underling to tell an indebted gambler: “I’m going to put him under the (bleeping) bridge.”
  • A Nassau County police detective, Hector Rosario, accepted money from criminals for offering to organize raids on rival gambling clubs.

Corrupt cops are a serious problem. Rosario is the major headline in a story that, with gambling so legally widespread, otherwise should not inspire the same emotions it would have in the 1950s. 

The extortion? It should absolutely be prosecuted but in the context of vice as a business, unless there is true potential for violence. Illegal gambling operators are not unique in really, really wanting to be paid. Loan companies and legal casinos that extend credit feel the same, and have been known to speak saltily about that desire to get their money. Based on the charging document, this is not exactly Murder Inc. going after a deadbeat.

The general sense, in gambling circles, is that illegal bookmakers are no more likely to risk jail over a bad debt than other business owners. They try to set your limit at what you can afford to pay if you lose, and what they can afford to write off if you don’t.

As far as the gambling itself, Nassau and Suffolk counties own and profit from the same machines as the gambling dens, and the state’s casinos run sportsbooks and tithe to the all-powerful governments. “We must protect citizens from the exact same vice we profit from elsewhere” is, voiced or unvoiced, a cruddy government slogan.

But you’d never know that from the statements.

Michael J. Driscoll, assistant director-in-charge of the FBI’s New York field office, accused the men of “using the same tired methods to squeeze money from their victims.”

And Nassau County District Attorney Anne Donnelly said the enterprises were “generating substantial amounts of money in back rooms while families unknowingly shopped and ate mere feet away.”

What does that mean? Does Donnelly fear the families will unwittingly catch a gambling-related disease via proximity? Joker Pokeritis? Slotsmania?

Any kind of official corruption is so corrosive and destructive that the allegations against the Nassau detective, Rosario, must be pursued vigorously. Extortion too, if violence was planned, must be punished harshly.

And on the gambling? The governments that pay Peace, Driscoll and Donnelly are funded in part by legal gambling revenue, including taxes, and have been for decades. They are paid to put folks away for competing with government-sanctioned monopoly vice, and for refusing to kick back to the government (“pay taxes”) in doing so.

That's very different from one criminal gambling enterprise getting another shuttered by cops. But it's a tiny bit less different than it was before the broad legalization of gambling spurred an ever-increasing government reliance on the revenue it kicks back.

Columnist Lane Filler's opinions are his own.

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