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A retired veteran police officer from Bayside who worked for the Secret Service has been charged with stealing five of the agencys cars that had been stored at the World Trade Center at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, a federal prosecutor said.
William Bennette, 52, of 34-38 201st St. was arrested Tuesday and charged with theft of government property, U.S. Attorney Roslynn Mauskopf said in a news release. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in jail and a $250,000 fine.
Bennette, an operations support technician at the Secret Services New York office, had the job of inventorying and disposing of 179 vehicles in the agencys fleet that had been destroyed, damaged or recovered from Ground Zero, said Mauskopf, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District in Brooklyn.
Some of the cars were stored at Floyd Bennett Field and later sent to the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island for proper disposal. But in an interview with investigators, Bennette admitted he gave a 2001 Chevy Impala to his daughter and a 2001 Ford Taurus and 1998 Mercury Sable to his mother in North Carolina, according to the criminal complaint filed by the U.S. attorneys office.
Bennette falsified government documents and created other phony records to divert certain vehicles from their final disposition and transfer them to his family members and others, Mauskopf said.
Mauskopfs spokesman, Robert Nardoza, said the cars Bennette allegedly appropriated were in decent condition.
A 1994 Plymouth Acclaim and 1994 Ford Taurus were also recovered from Larrys Auto Collision in Whitestone. According to the complaint, a falsified receipt described the sale of three of the cars from the federal government to a Danielle Bennette at the auto repair shop for $10,300. Nardoza said she was the defendants daughter.
The repair shops owner said he was surprised by the case and that no women had ever been employed there.
Its unfortunate. Im saddened by it, he said, declining further comment.
The five stolen cars are valued at about $35,000, the criminal complaint said.
No one answered the door at Bennettes home Tuesday.
His attorney, Alan Lieberman, said Bennette, a 30-year NYPD veteran who retired as a sergeant, had lived in Bayside for 32 years and was commended for his valor at 7 World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
Hes led an exemplary life, said Lieberman. Based on the outline of the governments case, that behavior is aberrant behavior for a man who has been an exemplary citizen.
Nardoza said Bennette turned himself in Tuesday morning at the Secret Service office in Brooklyn.
He was arraigned later in the day before Judge Steven Gold in federal court in Brooklyn and was released on $75,000 bond after pleading not guilty, said Bennettes attorney.
Secret Service spokesman Michael Mooney said Tuesday that Bennette resigned from his job that morning before going to court.
The defendant took advantage of the carnage resulting from the tragic terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 for his personal advantage, Mauskopf said in a statement. By his conduct he has tarnished the reputation of the honest and brave men and women of the Secret Service and dishonored the victims of our national tragedy.
A Justice Department investigation found that FBI agents and officials took many items from Ground Zero as souvenirs, such as debris from the Twin Towers wreckage, a Tiffany paperweight and even World Trade Center security patches cut from shirts found in the rubble, the Associated Press reported last month.
Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at email@example.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.
©2004 Community Newspaper Group
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