Five police officers from the 68th Precinct in Bay Ridge were moonlighting as gunrunners and cigarette bootleggers, say federal agents who arrested them on Tuesday after a two-year investigation which culminated with a sting operation in last month.
Eight active duty and retired cops who worked at the 68th and 71st precincts and in the Brooklyn South Task Force ran a smuggling ring that imported $1-million worth of cigarettes, slot machines and guns including M-16 rifles, 16 handguns and a shotgun, according to an indictment released on Tuesday. The peace officers also transported stolen slot machines and hundreds of cases of cigarettes, the complaint claims.
The investigation began in 2009, when an undercover informant began recording conversations with William Masso, the alleged ringleader of the crooked gang.
Over the course of two years, the gang, which feds say included Eddie Goris and John Mahoney, of 68th Precinct, Ali Oklu, of the Brooklyn South Task Force, and Gary Ortiz, of the 71st Precinct in Crown Heights, as well as three retired cops who worked at 68th Precinct, Joseph Trischitta, Marco Venezia and Richard Melnik, graduated from cigarettes and handbags to stolen slot machines taken from New Jersey.
On Sept. 22 of this year, federal officials set up the gang to buy a cache of firearms — all of which had been rendered inoperable by the FBI — in New Jersey and transported them to New York.
On one tape, Masso told an undercover agent that he had cops who could provide protection to smuggle cigarettes into the state.
“Whatever he wants we can get — one guy 7-foot tall, with muscles out to here,” Masso said, according to the indictment. “We got that. You want a guy who beat the [tar] out of somebody who bothers him, we got that. We got cops with vests and guns.”
Sources said that Masso was attracted to the glamour of the criminal lifestyle as portrayed in the “Godfather” movies and the TV show “The Sopranos.”
“Masso was always a wannabe wise guy,” said one police source.
Federal prosecutors also charge that Goris, Oklu, Ortiz. Gomer, and two accomplices traveled to Virginia to rip off more $500,000 worth of smokes from two trucks in May, 2011.
“The complaint describes how a gang of police officers who should have been keeping guns off the street instead smuggled 20 firearms into the city; and how a number of men once charged with enforcing the law are now charged with breaking it,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. “An officer who betrays his badge betrays every honorable officer, as well as every member of the public.”
The defendants were scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday afternoon in federal court in Manhattan.
The cops’ ranks and duties while on the force were not clear by press time. All of the active duty cops have been suspended without pay.
Captain Richard DiBlasio, commanding officer of the 68th Precinct, declined to comment.
— with Thomas Tracy
Reach reporter Dan MacLeod at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling him at (718) 260-4507. You can also follow his Tweets at @dsmacleod.