Two cops charged in false drug bust

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Two police officers suspected of falsely arresting four Queens men on drug sales charges last year were indicted by a grand jury last Thursday, opening a new chapter in a saga that deprived a pair of Jackson Heights brothers of their livelihood.

Former Detective Stephen Anderson, 33, and Officer Henry Tavarez, 27, submitted reports that the men sold them drugs, presenting bags of cocaine as evidence, before security camera footage showed they never spoke to the suspects, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said.

Anderson and Tavarez were charged with criminal sale of a controlled substance, offering a false instrument for filing, falsifying business records, misconduct, unlawful imprisonment and conspiracy, according to the DA.

Anderson was also charged with attempted perjury and tampering with a witness for allegedly trying to convince Tavarez to claim he forgot the details of the drug bust.

Both men pleaded not guilty at their arraignment. Judge James Griffin set bail for Anderson at $25,000 and bail for Tavarez at $15,000.

Their next court date is March 20. If convicted on the drug sales charge, both men face up to nine years in prison.

“Don’t jump to any conclusions,” said Bruce Wenger, Anderson’s attorney. “There are a lot of facts in this case that might be misapplied.”

Lawrence Fredella, Tavarez’s attorney, said his client was an observer on his first undercover assignment.

“[Tavarez] was the rookie watching. He was told the four men sold them drugs and he believed a buy had taken place,” Fredella said, contending that his client signed off on the arrest report because they were his superior officers.

Brown confirmed it was the first time Tavarez and Anderson had worked together.

The DA is pursuing the drug sales charge based on the text of the law that includes a defendant transferring ownership of the drugs to another party.

“They allegedly abused their power and betrayed their trust,” Brown said.

News of the charges proved bittersweet to Jackson Heights brothers Jose and Maximo Colon, who were falsely charged in the drug bust and whose grocery store went out of business after the state rescinded their lottery and cigarette licenses due to the pending charges. The brothers have filed matching lawsuits in Brooklyn federal court, demanding $5 million in damages.

“I don’t know why they did it,” Maximo Colon. “If you’ve got a charge to help people, why do you got to make up stuff like this?”

The Colons were enjoying a drink at Delicias de Mi Tierra, an Elmhurst bar, on Jan. 5, 2008, when they were arrested and charged along with four other men with selling undercover officers cocaine.

Two of the men later pleaded guilty to selling three bags of cocaine to Anderson and Tavarez, Brown said. But the officers allegedly reported the men sold them only one bag of cocaine and claimed the other four men sold them the other bags, the DA said.

After being released from jail, Jose Colon went to the bar and retrieved surveillance camera footage that showed the officers never spoke to the Colons. It was the catalyst for the criminal case against the officers.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e−mail at jwalsh@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 154.

Updated 6:35 pm, October 10, 2011
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