A volunteer officer with the Orthodox Jewish Borough Park Shomrim, a community-based policing force, was charged in Manhattan federal court on Monday for bribing NYPD officials with cash for expedited gun licenses.
While officials' names have not been released by investigators, the Daily News reports that the License Division's commanding officer, Deputy Inspector Michael Endall, 48, has been demoted to administrative work "pending further review." Sergeant David Villanueva, 42, and Officer Richard Ochetal, 36, have also been placed on modified duty.
Alex "Shaya" Lichtenstein, 44, came to investigators' attention earlier this month when he approached an acquaintance within the NYPD, allegedly claiming that his previous connections in the Licensing Division had dried up. Lichtenstein ultimately offered the officer $6,000 per license, bragging that he'd used his connections to obtain 150 gun licenses to date.
The officer in question, who has not been named, notified the Internal Affairs Bureau, which is already in the midst of a joint-FBI investigation into NYPD brass taking cash and gifts in exchange for favors, like police details for weddings and funerals. The ongoing probe has already seen several heads roll, including commanding officers who allegedly traded favors with Upper West Side developer Jona Rechnitz and Borough Park businessman Jeremey Reichberg. Mayor de Blasio, who has received substantial campaign donations from both men, is also feeling the heat.
The same cop who tipped off the IAB to Lichtenstein's alleged offer met with Lichtenstein in Borough Park last week, wearing a concealed camera. Apparently agitated, Lichtenstein patted the cop down and said that he'd rather meet with "in your underpants and undershirt," according to the complaint filed Monday in Manhattan federal court.
Ultimately assured that the cop was legit, he eventually promised that, "I'll give you.... more than you'll make in the police department." He then took out a calculator and multiplied $6,000 per license by 150 licenses, indicating that the officer could make as much as $900,000.
Lichtenstein's operation has allegedly been ongoing for three years. In 2013 a commanding NYPD officer allegedly introduced Lichtenstein to a veteran sergeant in the Licensing Division, whose name has not been released. Once the relationship was forged, Lichtenstein allegedly hung out with the sergeant at his office in the Licensing Division on a near-daily basis. The sergeant, in turn, bragged about his close relationship with the Hasidic Community, and the Commanding Officer who had introduced him to Lichtenstein.
He also wasn't quiet about his transactions with Lichtenstein. Earlier this year he allegedly told fellow Licensing Division officers that Lichtenstein charges his customers $18,000 per gun license. But the relationship turned sour. Lichtenstein apparently told the bugged officer last week that the sergeant had gotten "pissed off" because "people got information" that he'd been paid "so much money."
Questioned in relation to the probe, an officer who processed applications for Lichtenstein said that he often received "lunch money" in exchange for his services, to the tune of about $100.
The NYPD License Division receives about 5,000 applications per year, according to the department. Before an application is approved, the NYPD reviews the individual's criminal and mental health history, conducts an in-person interview, and, if applicable, assesses the need for a license to carry. At least one of the applications associated with Lichtenstein is for an unnamed gun license holder who had been listed in at least four domestic violence complaints and had allegedly threatened to kill someone at least once.
"This bribery scheme allowed a man to obtain a gun who made a threat against someone’s life," said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Diego Rodriquez in a statement. "It’s further alarming that Lichtenstein bragged about beating the system and potentially put the general public in danger.”
Lichtenstein, who now lives in Pomona, New York, was released on $500,000 bail. He has been charged with one count of bribery, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, and one count of conspiracy, which carries a maximum of five.
Commissioner Bratton, who said earlier this month that a bout of demotions of top brass in relation to the FBI probe would not be remembered as a "particularly good day for the department," stated on Monday that, "this investigation will continue to go where the leads take us.”