ROCKLAND COUNTY, N.Y. -- Three months after a Rockland man was sentenced to 32 months in prison for working as a "fixer" to get gun licenses quickly approved by New York City police officers, three former officers were arrested Tuesday in the scheme.
The investigation into the "fixing" operation began when Alex Lichtenstein, 44, of Pomona, was busted by the FBI last year. According to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, Lichtenstein would pay bribes to police officers to get gun licenses for clients from the Orthodox Jewish community,
His takedown and the following investigations led to the arrests Tuesday of the three officers and the announcement that two other officers, who pleaded guilty last year, were cooperating with the government.
Tuesday's arrests included Paul Dean, 44, of Wantagh, Robert Espinel, 47, of Seaford, and Gaetano Valastro, 58, of Queens, said Joon H. Kim, the Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
“Corruption was allegedly pervasive at the NYPD’s License Division going up as high as Lieutenant Paul Dean, until recently the Division’s second in command, and including three other officers, Sergeant David Villanueva, Officer Robert Espinel and Officer Richard Ochetal," Kim said. "Corruption at the License Division also spawned a cottage industry of parasitic profiteers, alleged bribers masquerading as so-called expediters, that included other former police officers and John Chambers, a lawyer and former Brooklyn prosecutor."
The bribes included cash payments, paid vacations, food and liquor, the services of prostitutes, and free guns, among other things. In exchange, the officers approved, expedited, and upgraded licenses for clients of Lichtenstein and fellow "fixers" Frank Soohoo and Gaetano Valastro, the indictment said.
The officers approved licenses for individuals with substantial criminal histories, including arrests and convictions for crimes involving weapons or violence, and for individuals with histories of domestic violence, Kim added.
Dean and Espinel were charged with conspiracy to commit bribery and extortion; Valastro was charged with conspiracy to commit bribery and making false statements, the indictment said.
Kim praised the investigative work of the FBI and the NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau and noted that the investigation is continuing.