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‘They don’t deserve the uniform’ - Cops speak out about detectives accused of pocketing confiscated drugs

The scandal surrounding the Narcotic officers accused of allegedly stealing drugs from dealers and mistreating confidential informants is dividing the ranks of the NYPD, with some seeking to understand just how a crew of dedicated officers could bend the rules they swore to uphold while others demand they go to jail. “As far as I’m concerned, if they’re found guilty, then they’re criminals,” said a cop at the 61st Precinct in Sheepshead Bay, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “They don’t deserve to wear the uniform because they are making the rest of us look bad.” “They” are the two Brooklyn South detectives, sergeant and police officer facing criminal charges for skimming drugs seized in Coney Island, Red Hook, Bay Ridge and the lower Slope as well as “paying” confidential informants with drugs and cash they took off the dealers they arrested. The charges stemming from the widespread investigation could threaten up to 500 drug cases the officers had investigated over the last few years, officials said. It has also caused one of the largest NYPD shake-ups in Brooklyn since the attack on Abner Louima in Flatbush’s 70th Precinct back in 1997. Last week, several members of Brooklyn South’s Narcotics Unit were transferred to other commands, including the unit’s commanding officer. At least four of them were facing criminal charges. “I worked there and I didn’t even know what was going on,” Brooklyn South Narcotics Captain James Fulton told members of the 78th Precinct Community Council Tuesday, explaining that the investigation and the arrests were performed under the radar. “I don’t know where everyone is getting their information from.” With some new faces working out of their base in Bay Ridge, Fulton said that Brooklyn South Narcotics was back to “business as usual.” “We’re looking to get the bad guys,” he said, calling drug dealers “the dredges of society.” But apparently some other dredges of society were closer to home. Officials allege that Detectives Sean Johnstone and Police Officer Julio Alvarez were taken into custody late last year for allegedly “cooking the books” on their own drug seizures. According to the complaint, the two officers raided a Coney Island drug dealer’s home on September 13, seizing over two dozen bags of cocaine. Detective Johnstone was allegedly caught on tape bragging that he and Alvarez had recovered 28 bags of cocaine, but only reported that they had found seventeen bags. Johnstone allegedly claimed that the missing drugs were used to pay off informers. According to published reports, his confession was an accident. He reportedly didn’t know that the wire he was wearing was still recording when he confided in another officer about how he dealt with drug dealers and informers. His loose lips sparked an Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB) investigation that led to the arrests of Sergeant Michael Arenella and Police Officer Jerry Bowens, who were charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance, criminal sale of a controlled substance and official misconduct. The two were accused of giving an informant some of the drugs they seized during a bust “as a reward.” When IAB heard the allegations, they reportedly set up a sting operation where an operative pretended to be a drug dealer. The informant, who was reportedly in on the operation, led the two cops to the undercover operative. Arenella and Bowens arrested the would-be drug dealer, then allegedly took $40 off of him and gave it to the informant. They also gave the informant some of the drugs they seized, according to police. Both cops have since been suspended without pay. Bowens is facing additional charges after allegations had surfaced that he had sex with a crack-addicted confidential informant. While investigators do pay their informants, they can’t simply hand them cash. Informants can only be paid after the investigators fill out the proper request forms. Besides the four cops who have been arrested, six other narcotic officers have been suspended. Two other officers have been put on modified duty and the heads of the unit have been reassigned. Since the scandal broke, the Kings County District Attorney’s office has reportedly dismissed 150 low-level drug cases the arrested officers had investigated. While praising the NYPD and the internal affairs bureau for their quick action in this matter, a spokesman for Kings County District Attorney Charles Hynes said that the charges were dismissed because “the cases investigated by the officers that have fallen under this shadow of corruption probably couldn’t be made.” While the Narcotics units are responsible for hundreds of arrests in Brooklyn South each year, the teams receive their direction from 1 Police Plaza, not Patrol Brooklyn South, explained one borough cop, who said that the officers mired in the scandal could have been victims of the clannish, tightly-knit structure that naturally comes with narcotics teams. “In narcotics, the bosses’ boom down doors with you,” said the officer, who also wished not to be named. “That psychology of working together sometimes makes people feel more comfortable with their superiors. It lessons the fear about getting in trouble.” This elevated “comfort level” makes it easier for the officers to bend the rules, and sometimes break them, the officer alleged. But the “cowboy behavior” that some of these units revel in hasn’t gone unnoticed. On Monday, Williamsburg Assemblymember Joe Lentol announced that he will begin a renewed push to demand more disclosure on how law enforcement uses and treats their confidential informants. Lentol put in a bill demanding such changes in 2006. In light of the new scandal, he believes it’s time that Albany takes another look at it. “No one is trying to stop the practice of using confidential informants,” Lentol said. “However, we are trying to ensure that when they are used it is truly in the best interest of the community and that society is able to have some modicum of oversight and transparency.” If made into law, Lentol’s bill would put some regulations in place, as well as compile annual statistics about how informants are used “so judges, legislators and law enforcement have the tools and information they need to properly regulate this practice,” he said. “Because this practice is largely done behind closed doors with no one overseeing it, it is next to impossible to properly regulate it,” he explained. Lentol said that he will soon be holding public hearings on the issue of confidential informants “so that we can begin to make sure that this practice is not injuring the integrity of the police or the social fabric of the community.” — with Gary Buiso A child’s birthday party ended in a shakedown for a Queens woman who accidentally lost her purse on Atlantic Avenue recently. The victim, a bank teller, told police that she had taken her child to a party inside the Atlantic Center Mall, 625 Atlantic Avenue, on January 12. She said that she was putting her baby in a car seat when she forgot that she had left her handbag on the sidewalk. Once she realized what she had done, she returned to Atlantic Avenue, but her bag had already been taken. The woman had chalked the entire ordeal up to a simple mistake when an unidentified man showed up at her home on January 24. The man said that he had her bag along with all of her personal information and credit card numbers. The stranger also knew where she worked and gave her a choice: either lose her identity and have her credit rating shattered or rob her own bank for him. The woman turned the tables on the blackmailer by reporting the visit to authorities. Cops from the 88th Precinct were investigating the report as this paper went to press. A 30-year-old man was beaten and robbed during a confrontation with five thugs on Grand Avenue, cops from the 88th Precinct were told. The victim said that he was nearing Clifton Place at 6:45 p.m. on January 22 when the unidentified suspects surrounded him. The thieves punched him in the face and knocked him to the ground before running off with his wallet and iPod. Cops were still searching for the thieves as this paper went to press. A Metropolitan Transit Authority was attacked as he unlocked an exit gate to the Fulton Street station Wednesday, officials said. The victim, 36, said that he was removing the locks to the entrance to the corner of Hanson Place and South Oxford Street at 4:30 a.m. on January 23 when an unidentified Hispanic male tried to take his bag from him. The would-be mugger reportedly threw the victim down a flight of stairs during the ensuing struggle and ran off, officials said. The MTA worker suffered a bruise to his forehead and some back pain as a result of the fall. A worker at a neighborhood laundromat was attacked last week for reportedly making an off-color comment to a customer, officials were told. But the victim, 47, said that he didn’t say anything to a young woman who came into the Clean Rite Center at 1 Putnam Avenue at 1:30 a.m. on January 26 to use the bathroom. The victim said that the woman used the bathroom and left without incident. A few seconds later, however, her boyfriend stormed in and began yelling at him. “What did you say to my girl?” the man demanded to know. Seconds later, the man picked up a clipboard and chucked it at the victim, striking him in the head. Cops were still looking for the jealous beau as this paper went to press. Thieves broke into a DeKalb Avenue nightspot near Clermont Avenue, taking cash, an assortment of DJ equipment and some spirits, officials said. Workers at June, 229 DeKalb Avenue, said that someone broke through a side door to the establishment between 2 and 9:30 a.m. on January 25. After an inventory, it was determined that $1700 in cash and the cash register was taken along with an amp, turntable iPod video machine and several tools. A case of Shiraz wine and a half bottle of Hennessy were also removed, officials said. A photographer attending the filming of a Hip Hop video in Steiner Studios last week left the Washington Avenue location with one less piece of equipment, cops were told. Someone reportedly helped themselves to the 33-year-old’s $2200 MacBook laptop computer during the course of the shoot, which was filmed between 10:40 a.m. and 10:30 p.m. on January 25. Cops are looking for the thief who made off with a laptop computer that a Pratt Institute student had left at a classroom workstation. The student, 27, told police that he believes a construction worker repairing the windows to the St. John’s Place building may have been responsible for the theft, which took place between 1 p.m. on January 18 and January 23. Officials were told that access to the classroom was restricted. Robbed at gunpoint Cops are looking for a gun-toting thug responsible for raiding a Carlton Avenue store. Police said that a worker was behind the counter just before 9 a.m. on January 21 when the unidentified mugger stormed in. The thief pulled a gun on the victim and ordered him to empty out the register, which amounted to about $220, officials said. Cops are asking anyone with information regarding this incident to come forward. Calls can be made to the 88th Precinct at (718) 636-6511. All calls will be kept confidential. Cops are asking area residents for any information about a missing 13-year-old girl who hasn’t been home since last Friday. Officials said that Gabrielle Pierre, a resident of Grand Avenue, was last seen on her way to school on the morning of January 18. The young black female is 5’3” tall, 115 pounds with black hair and brown eyes. She usually sports dark rimmed glasses. She was last seen wearing a blazer, white shirt and black pants and was toting a book bag. Anyone with information regarding Pierre’s whereabouts can contact the NYPD CrimeStoppers hotline at (800) 577-TIPS. All calls will be kept confidential. As the ongoing war against graffiti continues, a $500 reward is being offered to anyone with information about graffiti vandals in their neighborhoods. The hefty reward is part of the city’s new push to rid New York of graffiti vandals. Graffiti is one of the leading quality of life complaints brought to police. Anyone with information about graffiti vandalism is urged to contact either 311 or 911. A 15-year-old boy was robbed of his bicycle last week after he was confronted by a group of youths who claimed that he “was in the wrong neighborhood,” cops from the 90th Precinct were told. The victim told police that he had just stepped out of a grocery store at the corner of Roebling and South 3rd streets Monday afternoon when the three teenage thugs approached. Police said that the thieves struck the victim in the back of the head as they pulled him off his $300 bike. The victim was removed to Woodhull Hospital for treatment. Cops are asking anyone with information regarding this incident to come forward. Calls can be made to the 90th Precinct at (718) 963-6311. All calls will be kept confidential. Two gun-toting thieves with a hankering for beef lo mien and other delicacies are being sought for robbing Nine Dragons Chinese Food at 83 Humboldt Street last week. Workers said that the two thieves, described as Hispanic males, entered the restaurant at 10:10 p.m. on January 22 and pointed a gun at the worker through a service window. “Give me money and give me food,” one of the thieves demanded as they robbed the place of an undetermined amount of cash and a $5 order. The thieves were last seen running out of the store and into a building down the block, officials said. No injuries were reported. A 19-year-old Queens man was arrested last week after robbing a neighborhood deli at gunpoint, officials alleged. Police said that Rene Rodriguez was charged with robbery, criminal possession of a controlled substance and menacing after he reportedly barged into the 149 Royal Deli, located at 149 Havemeyer Street between South 1st and 2nd streets at 10:30 p.m. on January 22 and pulled a gun on the worker. Cops were told that Rodriguez allegedly pointed the gun at the employee’s chest and demanded that he empty the register. He was seen fleeing Havemeyer Street in a grey Honda Acura that was spotted later at the corner of Union and Metropolitan Avenue. The vehicle was pulled over and Rodriguez was apprehended with the $198 in receipts without incident, officials said. Thieves broke into a building under construction on Randolph Street last week, taking hundreds of dollars in copper pipes, brass faucets and fixtures and a toilet flusher, officials said this week. Workers at the site, located between Gardner and Stewart avenues, told police that the break-in took place sometime before January 27. When they arrived at the site that morning, they discovered that someone had “peeled up” a side door in order to get inside. After looting the place, the thieves fled through a rear fence, investigators were told. A thief who tested his luck by knocking on doors in a South 4th Street building is being sought for raiding one of the apartments. The victim, 23, said that he returned to an apartment he shared with two others at 5 p.m. on January 28 only to discover that someone had broken in. The thief removed two laptop computers, a digital camera, $300 in cash, a bottle of Coach perfume and a bottle of whisky, the victim said. Investigators canvassing the building were told that a 30-year-old white male was seen knocking on doors in the building around the time the burglary took place. It was unclear just how the thief entered the apartment as this paper went to press. Three masked thieves are being sought for robbing a woman needing dialysis treatments. The woman, 50, said that she was just about to exit the Marcy Avenue train station at Broadway on the night January 27 when the teenage suspects snatched her bag and ran off. She told police that she would have reported the incident earlier, but she felt ill from a dialysis session she had earlier that day. The thieves didn’t get much, save for two prescriptions – one for her dialysis treatments and another for Methadone. An area resident told police that someone made off with his green 1996 Honda Accord while it sat on Orient Avenue near Olive Street. The 29-year-old motorist said that he had parked his vehicle near the corner at 7 p.m. on January 25. When he returned to the vehicle at 11 a.m. the next morning, it was gone, officials said.

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