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NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Friday, July 17, 1998
Nineteen cops and a sergeant were yanked from duty at a busy midtown precinct last night amid explosive allegations officers got sexual favors from prostitutes in return for not busting brothels. Top brass at the Midtown South Precinct were transferred as a grim-faced Police Commissioner Howard Safir announced a "breakdown in supervision" allowed the rampant corruption to fester unchecked for a decade. The cops and sergeant were stripped of their badges and placed on modified duty after investigators from the Internal Affairs Bureau swooped down on the W. 35th St. stationhouse last week, sources said. The lightning raid capped a year-long investigation that eventually might implicate as many as 30 cops on all shifts at the busy precinct, said a law enforcement source familiar with the probe. The bombshell sex-for-protection allegations mark the most sweeping corruption scandal to hit the NYPD since dozens of cops were implicated in the notorious 30th Precinct case in 1994. Midtown South cops allegedly had sex with hookers as part of an agreement not to enforce anti-prostitution laws, said another investigator familiar with the probe. Confronted with the allegations by the Daily News, Safir last night hurriedly called a press conference to portray the NYPD as aggressively rooting out the scandal even as he conceded it continued for at least 10 years. Sources said the corruption might have gone on as long as 15 years. Safir said cops also were placed on modified duty for using an apartment known in police parlance as a "coop" to hang out when they were supposed to be on duty. Of the 19 cops yanked, 15 are believed to have associated with prostitutes, he said. The precinct commanding officer, executive officer and a lieutenant were transferred. Some of the brothels were staffed by Asian women, some by South American women, the investigator said, adding that "a variety of people" frequented the brothels. The apartment that Safir described as a cooping location belonged to a madam at one of the brothels and was an extension of the brothel, the investigator said. The office of Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau whom sources said is overseeing the probe would not comment last night. Lawyers for the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association last night declined to comment on the case, which broke open Tuesday when IAB investigators burst into the stationhouse demanding to know the whereabouts of four cops. "They [IAB] were like, 'Where is he? Call him at home. Get him down here now!'"
A cop who witnessed the raid said of investigators' determination to speak with specific officers. Officers James Trout, James Gombach, Stephen Buscarino and Lawrence Levine were placed on modified assignment last week. Reached by phone yesterday, Gombach said: "I really don't have any information. Is this going to be a negative story?"
Trout and Buscarino did not return calls for comment, and Levine could not be reached at the Brooklyn court section where he has been reassigned. The names of the other officers placed on modified duty were not released last night. Prostitution enforcement under the Giuliani administration took a marked turn in 1994, when then-Police Commissioner William Bratton unleashed precinct cops to attack the street-level problem with undercover stings. Previously, enforcement was done solely by the public morals division because of the perceived high risk of corruption. "There's so much money involved, and in a male-dominated organization [like the Police Department], the problem has not always been taken seriously," said Walter Mack, the former head of the Internal Affairs Bureau. Bratton fired Mack in 1995 largely because of a sting at the Bluebird brothel on W. 20th St. in which a hidden camera captured a prostitute performing a sex act on a detective during a raid.
Previous NYPD precinct scandals:
Five cops from the 70th Precinct in Brooklyn are charged with beating and sodomizing Haitian immigrant Abner Louima in a stationhouse bathroom.
13 cops and three sergeants from the 48th Precinct in the Bronx are indicted for petty larceny, official misconduct and making false statements uncovered in an undercover sting.
Three officers from the 73rd Precinct in Brownsville, Brooklyn, are charged with dealing drugs, usually while on duty. The officers called themselves the Morgue Boys because they often met to divide their profits near a factory that once manufactured morgue refrigerators.
An internal investigation uncovers a gang of 34 rogue cops at the 30th Precinct in Harlem, causing the precinct to be dubbed the Dirty 30. The cops are charged with making illegal arrests, perjuring themselves, taking bribes from drug dealers, pocketing bundles of cash, and stealing and selling cocaine and heroin.
Five cops from the 106th Precinct in Queens, including a lieutenant assigned to guard against police brutality, are charged with assaulting prisoners in their custody with an electric stun gun.