Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Three Former Police Officers And Former Assistant District Attorney Arrested In Connecton With Gun License Bribery Scheme


Two Others, Including Former Police Officer and Auxiliary Police Officer, Plead Guilty and Agree to Cooperate


   Joon H. Kim, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, William F. Sweeney Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), and James P. O’Neill, Commissioner of the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”), announced today that PAUL DEAN, ROBERT ESPINEL, GAETANO VALASTRO, a/k/a “Guy,” and JOHN CHAMBERS were arrested and charged in Manhattan federal court with conspiracy to commit bribery, among other offenses, in connection with a scheme involving the approval of gun licenses by the NYPD License Division in exchange for cash payments and non-monetary bribes.  Acting U.S. Attorney Kim also announced the unsealing of the guilty pleas of David Villanueva, a former NYPD Sergeant assigned to the License Division, and Frank Soohoo, a gun license expediter.  In connection with their guilty pleas, Villanueva and Soohoo have agreed to cooperate with the Government.
DEAN and ESPINEL were arrested and charged in Manhattan federal court with two counts of conspiracy to commit bribery, and one count of extortion; VALASTRO was arrested and charged in Manhattan federal court in the same case with two counts of conspiracy to commit bribery, and one count of making false statements.  CHAMBERS was arrested and charged separately in Manhattan federal court with one count of conspiracy to commit bribery and one count of bribery.  All four defendants were arrested this morning by FBI agents and officers from the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau (“IAB”), and will be presented before U.S. Magistrate Judge Kevin Nathaniel Fox in Manhattan this afternoon.
Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said:  “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.  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.  As alleged, for the police officers and expediters charged in this case, the critically important police function of issuing and controlling gun licenses was one they were willing to pervert for personal profit.  When police officers violate their oath in this way, they not only betray the public they have sworn to protect, but their fellow officers who do their jobs the right way, remaining faithful to the duties they owe to the public and to each other.  This Office, along with our partners at the FBI and NYPD, remain as committed as ever to ensure that public servants serve the public, not their personal pocketbooks.” 
FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. said:  “Law enforcement officials are granted authority to uphold the fundamental rule of law. But any abuse of this power – no matter how great or how small – is nothing short of a crime in and of itself.  Today, as alleged, a series of gun expediters and former NYPD officers of various ranks face charges for their alleged role in a scheme that threatened the safety of our communities.  The vast majority of NYPD officers who willingly protect our city each and every day, no matter the risks, shouldn’t be associated with a select few who, as charged, placed a higher priority on satisfying their desires than upholding the law.”
NYPD Commissioner James P. O’Neill said:  “Over the past three years, the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau has conducted a thorough and comprehensive investigation in coordination with the FBI.  The behavior, as alleged in today’s charging documents, is intolerable. The charges reflect a serious violation of the oath these officers swore to uphold, eroding at the trust the public has in this Department.  The NYPD will continue to investigate alleged wrongdoing and root out corruption wherever it might be found.”
According to the allegations in the Complaints unsealed today in Manhattan federal
court[1]:
DEAN was a member of the NYPD from 1994 through 2016, and was assigned to the License Division from 2008 through 2016.  DEAN, a Lieutenant, was one of the highest-ranking members of the License Division and, from approximately November 2014 through November 2015, regularly ran the day-to-day operations of the License Division.  ESPINEL was a member of the NYPD from 1995 through his retirement in 2016, and was assigned to the License Division from 2011 through 2016. 
From at least 2013 through 2016, DEAN, ESPINEL, Villanueva, and Police Officer Richard Ochetal solicited and accepted bribes from gun license expediters in exchange for providing assistance to the expediters’ clients in obtaining gun licenses quickly and often with little to no diligence.   They obtained bribes from at least three expediters: VALASTRO, Soohoo, and Alex Lichtenstein, a/k/a “Shaya.”  VALASTRO was a former NYPD Detective who retired in 1999, and who operated a gun store out of which he sold guns, gun paraphernalia, and gun safety courses.
The bribes included cash payments, paid vacations, food and liquor, the services of prostitutes, and free guns, among other things.  In exchange, DEAN, ESPINEL, Villanueva, and Ochetal approved, expedited, and upgraded licenses for clients of VALASTRO, Lichtenstein, and Soohoo.  They did so by forgoing standard License Division diligence, including by failing to interview the applicants and failing to investigate the business-based need for applicants to carry guns.  They 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.
In 2015, dissatisfied with the fact that expediters were profiting thousands of dollars per gun license applicant when DEAN, ESPINEL, and others did the work to approve those applications, DEAN and ESPINEL decided to retire and go into the expediting business themselves.  In order to ensure the success of their business, DEAN and ESPINEL planned to bribe Villanueva, Ochetal, and others still in the License Division to enable their clients to get special treatment.  They also agreed with VALASTRO to run their expediting and bribery scheme out of VALASTRO’s gun store.  According to the plan, VALASTRO would benefit from the scheme because DEAN and ESPINEL would steer successful applicants to VALASTRO’s store to buy guns.  They also tried to corner the expediting market by forcing other expediters to work through them.  DEAN and ESPINAL attempted to coerce Soohoo into sharing his expediting clients with them by threatening to use their influence in the License Division to shut down Soohoo’s expediting business if Soohoo refused to work with, and make payments to, DEAN and ESPINEL. 

In addition to this bribery scheme, JOHN CHAMBERS, a former Assistant District Attorney in Kings County, was arrested for a separate bribery conspiracy with Villanueva.  CHAMBERS is an attorney who represents individuals before the License Division, and who markets himself to potential clients as the “Top Firearms Licensing Attorney in NY.”  From at least 2010 through 2015, CHAMBERS gave Villanueva numerous valuable items, including tickets to sporting and entertainment events for Villanueva and his family, free dinners and lunches for Villanueva, sports memorabilia, and a wristwatch valued at approximately $8,000.
In exchange, Villanueva assisted CHAMBERS’s clients in several ways.  He ensured that renewal applications submitted by CHAMBERS’s clients, which typically take 30 to 40 days for approval, were renewed more expeditiously, sometimes as quickly as within one day.  In addition, in evaluating “incidents” – investigations to determine whether an individual’s gun license should be suspended or revoked – Villanueva expedited the investigations, and then shortened the suspension periods, for CHAMBERS’s clients.
           
Villanueva also helped CHAMBERS renew gun licenses for clients before the Pistol Section of the Nassau County Police Department, where Villanueva had contacts.  Starting in or about 2012, CHAMBERS brought his clients’ renewal applications to Villanueva at One Police Plaza, and Villanueva mailed those applications to the Pistol Section using his NYPD License Division stationery.  Villanueva did so knowing that because he was submitting the renewal applications using his NYPD License Division stationery, the renewals would be approved in a significantly faster time for CHAMBERS’s clients than for other applicants.  In exchange, CHAMBERS paid Villanueva several times in cash, as well as with tickets to sporting and entertainment events for Villanueva and his family.  CHAMBERS typically mailed Villanueva the cash by taping it to the inside of a magazine.      


DEAN, 44, who resides in Wantagh, New York, has been charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit bribery, each of which carries a maximum term of five years in prison, and one count of extortion, which carries a maximum term of 10 years in prison.
ESPINEL, 47, who resides in Seaford, New York, has been charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit bribery, each of which carries a maximum term of five years in prison, and one count of extortion, which carries a maximum term of 10 years in prison.
VALASTRO, 58, who resides in Queens, New York, has been charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit bribery, each of which carries a maximum term of five years in prison, and one count of making false statements, which also carries a maximum term of five years in prison.
CHAMBERS, 62, who resides in Manhattan, New York, has been charged with one count of bribery, which carries a maximum term of 10 years in prison, and one count of conspiracy to commit bribery, which carries a maximum term of five years in prison.
Villanueva, 43, pled guilty in February 2017 to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery, four counts of bribery, and one count of making false statements.
Soohoo, 55, pled guilty in October 2016 to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery, one count of bribery, one count of making false statements, and one count of mail fraud.
The maximum potential sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the judge.
Mr. Kim praised the investigative work of the FBI and the NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau, and noted that the investigation is continuing.  
This case is being handled by the Office’s Public Corruption Unit.  Assistant United States Attorneys Russell Capone, Kan M. Nawaday, and Lauren B. Schorr are in charge of the prosecution.
The charges contained in the Complaints are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
[1] As the introductory phrase signifies, the entirety of the text of the Complaints and the descriptions of the Complaints set forth herein constitute only allegations, and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.

Two Narcotics Dealers Charged In Manhattan Federal Court With Heroin Overdose Death In A Hospital Rehabilitation Clinic


   Joon H. Kim, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and James P. O’Neill, the Commissioner of the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”), announced the unsealing of a superseding indictment charging ANTHONY DODAJ, 46, and DUANE MARTINEZ, 44, with narcotics dealing that resulted in the heroin overdose death of a 41-year-old patient in a hospital rehabilitation clinic.
On April 20, 2017, a grand jury returned an indictment charging DODAJ and MARTINEZ with conspiracy to distribute heroin. The indictment alleges that heroin distributed by DODAJ and MARTINEZ on January 1, 2017, resulted in the death of Ivy Katz, age 41.
DODAJ was arrested on a complaint on March 27, 2017, and was held without bail. MARTINEZ will be presented in federal court in Manhattan before U.S. Magistrate Judge Kevin Nathaniel Fox later today. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Vernon S. Broderick. DODAJ and MARTINEZ each face a mandatory minimum term of 20 years in prison.
Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim stated: “As alleged, Duane Martinez and Anthony Dodaj worked together to deliver a fatal dose of heroin to Ivy Katz, even as she was a patient in a hospital rehabilitation clinic. Martinez and Dodaj will now be held to account for their role in fueling the tragic overdose death crisis in New York City.”
NYPD Commissioner James P. O’Neill stated: “These defendants face 20-years-to-life in prison in connection with the overdose death of a 41-year-old woman. Those who sell heroin should know that the NYPD is committed to investigating overdoses to hold dealers responsible for their deaths. I want to thank the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the NYPD detectives who worked on this case. Together, we’re fighting the alarming rise in overdoses with every tool we have.”
As alleged in the Indictment against DODAJ and MARTINEZ[1]:
From at least in or about September 2016 through in or about March 2017, in the Southern District of New York and elsewhere, ANTHONY DODAJ and DUANE MARTINEZ, the defendants, and others conspired to sell heroin. In addition, the use of controlled substances distributed by DODAJ and MARTINEZ on or about January 1, 2017, resulted in the death of Ivy Katz.

ANTHONY DODAJ, 46, and DUANE MARTINEZ, 44, each face a maximum of life in prison, and a mandatory term of 20 years in prison.
The statutory maximum sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for information purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants would be determined by the judge.
Mr. Kim praised the outstanding investigative work of the NYPD.

This matter is being handled by the Office’s Narcotics Unit. Assistant United States Attorney David W. Denton Jr. is in charge of the prosecution.

The charges contained in the Indictment are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
 
[1] As the introductory phrase signifies, the entirety of the text of the Indictment, and the description of the Indictment set forth herein, constitute only allegations, and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.

MAYOR DE BLASIO SIGNS LEGISLATION TO BETTER PROMOTE ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE THROUGH THE WORK OF CITY AGENCIES


Signs legislation to better protect consumers from immigration services fraud, and holds a hearing to prohibit employers from asking for candidates’ salary history

   Mayor Bill de Blasio today held public hearings for and signed seven pieces of legislation into law – Intro. 564-A in relation to reviewing the feasibility of establishing online applications for all permits, licenses, and registrations issued by city agencies; Intro. 1112-A in relation to requiring the Parks Department to post on its website information relating to various tree maintenance activities; Intro. 1454, in relation to establishing the New Dorp Business Improvement District in Staten Island; Intro. 886-A in relation to identifying and addressing environmental justice issues; Intro. 359-A in relation to an environmental justice and online portal; Intro. 746-A in relation to imposing stricter guidelines for providers and further protect customers against immigration services fraud and unauthorized practice of the law; Intro. 708-A in relation to establishing a disconnected youth task force; and held a hearing for Intro. 1253-A in relation to prohibiting employers from inquiring about a prospective employee’s salary history.
“These bills recognize the historic injustices that have disproportionately fallen on low-income residents and communities of color – the burden of pollution and the effects of climate change -- and offer a different path forward. While our sustainability and resiliency programs have been driven by the need to create environmental justice, the City, with these bills, will now have new and stronger tools to empower communities as we build a more equitable city to meet the challenges of climate change,” said Mayor de Blasio. "I would like to thank Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the sponsors of these bills for continuing the fight for environmental justice for all New Yorkers."

The first bill, Intro. 564-A, will review the feasibility of establishing online applications for all permits, licenses, and registrations issued by city agencies. It will also examine the feasibility and timeline for establishing a single web portal for these applications.

“DoITT is dedicated to making sure that NYC runs on user-friendly technology, and working towards a comprehensive online permit portal will help do just that,” said Anne Roest, Commissioner of the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications. “I thank Council Member Vacca for his diligence on this issue, and I look forward to the results of this review.”

The second bill, Intro. 1112-A will require the Parks Department to post information relating to the times, dates, locations and work statuses of various tree maintenance activities online.

“NYC Parks shares the Council’s vision of greater transparency in Parks operations and planning, and we were pleased to work with the City Council on this legislation. Similar to Parks-led efforts such as expanded community scoping sessions, the Capital Projects Tracker, and the new Street Tree Map, we believe that enhanced, regularly updated public information about street tree maintenance will invite New Yorkers to learn more about how we plan and care for our parks and urban forest,” said NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, FAICP.

“These two bills the Mayor signed today, Intros 1112-A and 1454, will help make government more transparent and responsive to the public and to local businesses. Intro 1112-A will bring much-needed oversight to the city's tree and sidewalk repair program, providing key information online - including where and when repairs will be taking place and which trees or sidewalks are being prioritized for this work. The second bill, Intro 1454, will formally create the New Dorp Business Improvement District (BID), which will provide support to a great commercial district in the heart of Staten Island. This will be the second BID we have created since I took office three years ago, and is part of my ongoing efforts to change the dynamic between small business and government to one of more trust and collaboration. 

The fourth bill, Intro. 886-A, sets up an Interagency Working Group to create a citywide Environmental Justice Plan that provides guidance on incorporating environmental justice concerns into City decision-making, identifies possible Citywide initiatives for promoting environmental justice and provides specific recommendations for City agencies to bring their operations, programs and projects in line with environmental justice concerns. The bill also establishes an Advisory Board consisting of residents and experts to assist the Working Group.

The fifth bill, Intro. 359-A, requires the new Interagency Working Group to conduct a study to identify and address environmental justice concerns, and to make recommendations for measures to advance environmental justice goals. The environmental justice information will be made available to the public through a web portal that will provide easy access to relevant maps, data and Agency programs.

The sixth bill, Intro. 746-A, will impose stricter guidelines for providers and further protect customers against immigration services fraud and unauthorized practice of law.

“Our City agencies are committed to protecting all New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status, through increasing education and providing access to free, trustworthy services,” said DCA Commissioner Lorelei Salas. “By signing Intro. 746-A, the Administration has taken an important step toward ensuring that our immigrant communities are not being defrauded, cheated, or otherwise taken advantage of by providers claiming to offer services that should only be provided by an attorney.”

The seventh bill, Intro. 708-A, will establish a disconnected youth task force.

Senator Klein, City Island Civic Association applaud MTA’s planned Bx29 Service Extension


The bus service is slated to operate one hour later beginning July 2017

Following years of pushing the MTA to modify the Bx29 bus route, the city agency announced Monday it’s plan to extend by one hour the popular City Island/Bay Plaza Shopping Center line. The announcement is a major triumph for Bx29 ridership, Senator Jeff Klein and the City Island Civic Association, who have been requesting this service expansion for years. The tragic death of cyclist Gabriela Aguilar-Vallinos in September 2015 shed a light on the need for such a service extension to increase commuter safety to and from the City Island.

“This is an incredibly important step in the ongoing effort to boost commuter safety in City Island. This extra hour of service will enable a sound alternative mode of transportation for the late-night crowds of City Island, including workers, residents and tourists. I’ve written several letters to the MTA over the years requesting such a service extension to the Bx29 line, and I’m thrilled the agency ultimately heeded the concerns of myself and the community,” said Senator Klein.

“Let this serve as an example of the synergy between the people of City Island and Senator Klein working with agencies to create a safe and secure atmosphere for City Island and the public in general,” said Bill Stanton, President of the City Island Civic Association.

The modification to the Bx29 route was one of 27 bus service adjustments presented on Monday to the board of the MTA’s NYC Transit and Bus Committee. The Bx29 revisions would expand service by one hour. Currently the weekday routes off City Island conclude at 12:12 a.m., and 1:11 a.m. on the weekends. The planned changes would go into effect in July 2017, nearly two years after the tragic death of 27-year-old cyclist Gabriela Aguilar-Vallinos.

Aguilar-Vallinos was heading home from work at a restaurant on City Island when she was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver on the City Island Bridge on Sept. 11 2015. Since the horrific crash, Senator Klein and the City Island Civic Association have continuously advocated for later Bx29 bus service to properly accommodate the City Island community.

STATEMENT FROM MAYOR DE BLASIO ON FEDERAL COURT RULING ON SANCTUARY CITIES ORDER


   “Once again a federal court has told the Trump administration: ‘No you can’t.’ The president is going beyond his authority when he tries to cut vital funding to cities that don’t share his illogical and unconstitutional desire to scapegoat immigrants. New York is the safest big city in America because we work with all our residents, not against some of them. We said from the beginning that a stroke of a pen in Washington would not change our values or how we protect our people.”

Dinowitz Introduces Bill to Shine Light on State Energy Policies


  Bronx Assemblyman drafts bill to require majority for meetings, votes by Public Service Commission (PSC), agency tasked with oversight of state telecommunications and energy utilities; three current vacancies on Cuomo-appointed five-member board of commissioners has left major decisions for New York ratepayers to minority

New bill follows decision by PSC to skip recent joint hearing into controversial nuclear bailout convened by Dinowitz and colleagues

  In an effort to increase oversight and accountability of recent decisions affecting the utility bills of millions downstate ratepayers, New York State Assembly Member Jeffrey Dinowitz has introduced legislation to overhaul the public meeting and voting protocol for the state's Public Service Commission (PSC). This comes amid criticism of a recent proposal by the agency to subsidize the operator of four upstate nuclear power plants, and the refusal by PSC to attend a recent joint committee hearing convened by Dinowitz and colleagues to discuss it. 

"The Public Service Commission has the power to regulate the utility services for millions of New Yorkers," said Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz. "The people of this state expect their government to make such important decisions transparently and in line with the majority. If we in the Assembly are required to operate this way, then the PSC should be expected to do the same. Requiring a majority for PSC meetings and votes will ensure that decisions that could impact ratepayers' pocketbooks are thoroughly reviewed and debated." 

This month, Assemblyman Dinowitz introduced bill A.6826-A to amend the state's public service law to require a majority of the total members of the PSC board to be present in order to hold commission meetings or take votes. The PSC's five-member board of commissioners is currently down to two sitting members after Chair Audrey Zibelman left her post on March 20 to oversee the Australian Energy Market Operator. 

The bill comes as the PSC faces mounting criticism over a decision to offer Zero-Emissions Credits (ZEC) to four upstate nuclear power plants owned by the Exelon Corporation. The plan, which Dinowitz has blasted as "corporate welfare," would cost ratepayers as much as $7.6 billion of the next twelve years, according to the New York Public Interest Research Group. Dinowitz contends that this cost would be disproportionately shouldered by downstate customers. 

In March, Dinowitz, who chairs the Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, held a joint hearing with the Committees on Energy, Consumer Affairs and Protection, and Environmental Conservation to review the proposal. Despite being invited to testify, the PSC declined to send representatives to the hearing, drawing the ire of Dinowitz and colleagues. In a subsequent letter to the committees, the PSC alternately defended its absence by blaming legislators for not providing sufficient advance notice, and pointing to advice from legal counsel in light of pending litigation filed by environmental groups in response to the ZEC proposal.

While the agency has indicated that it will send representatives to a subsequent hearing to be held on May 1st, Dinowitz contends that more actions must still be taken to ensure a greater level of accountability on issues affecting so many New Yorkers.

"Reducing carbon emissions is an important goal that I fully support, but we need to shed more light on the state's proposal," concluded Dinowitz. "New York households already feel left in the dark on how utility companies arrive at the rates they charge. It's time we change that."

MAYOR DE BLASIO, CHANCELLOR FARIÑA AND CITY COUNCIL ANNOUNCE EVERY CLASSROOM WILL HAVE AIR CONDITIONING BY 2022


City dedicating $28.75 Million to Install Air Conditioning in All classrooms

  Mayor de Blasio, Chancellor Fariña and the City Council today announced funding to provide every classroom in New York City with air conditioning. The City dedicated $28.75 million over the next five years to purchase and install air conditioning units in all classrooms by 2022, providing thousands of students with a more comfortable learning environment.

“Making sure that all classrooms are air conditioned is one more commitment we’re making to ensure that nothing stands in the way of our students and a quality education,” said Mayor de Blasio. “I’ve spoken with countless parents at town halls across the city and this issue has come up repeatedly. We’re investing in classrooms to create a safe, comfortable atmosphere to build on the progress our schools have made over the last few years.”

“This funding will ensure that every classroom across the City has air conditioning and that all students are provided with a safe, comfortable learning environment,” said Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. “Schools in older buildings have long struggled to keep instructional spaces cool during the summer months and now they will be able to install air conditioners in every classroom.”  

Approximately 11,500 classrooms – 26 percent of all classrooms – across the City do not have functioning air conditioners and this funding will provide air conditioning to over 2,000 additional classrooms in the first year or the program. Installation in the first cohort of schools will begin this summer. The DOE is working closely with the SCA to prioritize summer school sites and assess school need based on building utilization and ability to accommodate the upgrades. 

Total funding for Fiscal Year 2018 is $5 million, $5.5 million for Fiscal Year 2019, $6 million for Fiscal Year 2020 and 2021 and $6.25M for Fiscal Year 2022. In addition to funding for the air conditioner units and labor for instillation, the School Construction Authority’s five-year Capital Plan includes approximately $50 million for electrical upgrades to support the installation of air conditioning units. The city will reevaluate capital costs as installation progresses and adjust as necessary.