MELROSE, BRONX (WPIX)—Hundreds of off-duty cops chanting "PBA! PBA!" applauded 16 of their fellow officers and sergeants, after the group was indicted in a ticket-fixing and corruption scandal their supporters called "selective prosecution."
"A courtesy has now turned into a crime," PBA union President, Patrick Lynch, declared outside Bronx Supreme Court on East 161st Street, referring to what he called a "decades long" practice of police officers getting rid of summonses for friends and family.
"This is accepted at all ranks for decades. Taking care of your family is not a crime."
The investigation started in December 2008, when the NYPD received a tip that Officer Jose Ramos of the 40th Precinct--an 18 year police veteran-- was selling marijuana out of two barbershops he owned. Prosecutors said Ramos' "business partner" was driving around with an NYPD police parking plaque in his window, and the officer was engaged in all kinds of criminal activity.
They charged Ramos tipped off associates in the Bronx about a confidential informant who was working with police on criminal cases. They said he stole tens of thousands of dollars from a drug dealer who was holed up in a motel. "Unfortunately for him," the assistant district attorney said, "the whole thing was caught on surveillance."
Prosecutors also charged Officer Ramos once drove a car from the Bronx to Brooklyn he thought contained kilos of heroin. "He did that in full uniform," prosecutors said.
The trouble for the other officers started when Ramos was recorded on wiretap talking about getting a ticket fixed with the help of union delegates from the Patrolman's Benevolent Association. The investigation was referred to the Bronx District Attorney's office for further review.
The highest-ranking member of the NYPD charged Friday was a female Lieutenant from the Internal Affairs Division, a unit that's charged with investigating police corruption. Lieutenant Jennara Cobb is accused of meeting with two members of the police department, one of them an elected PBA official, prosecutors said.
"She told them to be careful on the phone," the ADA said. "Her conduct was egregious; it completely undermined a valid investigation." Lieutenant Cobb pleaded not guilty to the charges, and her lawyer, Philip Karasyk, told PIX 11 the investigation "was leaking like a sieve, long before she was involved." Cobb walked out of court on $20,000 bond, and most of the other police officers, who also pleaded not guilty, were released on their own recognizance.
A couple of police sergeants have been charged with covering up felony assault cases and tampering with paperwork, and the balance of the criminal charges involved police officers charged with fixing tickets. One of them, Officer Christopher Scott, is accused of fixing tickets between January 13, 2010 and October 29, 2010. "He repeatedly acted in concert with other officers, PBA delegates and trustees, to prevent the processing of summonses. They either removed or destroyed summonses at the precinct level," the prosecutor said.
When Police Commissioner, Ray Kelly, appeared at an afternoon press conference, he explained why the "ticket fixing" case had to be a criminal case.
"Exposing police misconduct is a painful process but a necessary one," Kelly said. "It is necessary for the continued health and reputation of the entire police department--and for the vast majority of police officers who work hard and honestly every day, often putting their lives on the line in the process. We owe it to them and the public to root out corruption, wherever it exists," Kelly said.
Detective Stephen McDonald, who was paralyzed 25 years ago when he was shot by a young bike thief, had an American flag blanket wrapped around himself, as he wheeled into court to support the officers accused of ticket-fixing.
Patrick Lynch, the PBA President, said to wild applause, when he spoke of Ramos, "We are not here to support a drug dealer or anyone who associates with drug dealers." Ramos is being held on $500,000 cash bail.
Across the street from the courthouse, some Bronx residents waved newspaper headlines about the scandal and said, "If we can't get our tickets fixed, why should a cop's family?" Lynch called it a "professional courtesy".