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3 New York Police Commanders Arrested In Corruption Probe

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

A federal investigation in New York City is revealing a culture of back scratching and outright corruption and the highest levels of the NYPD. Federal prosecutors announced charges today against senior police officials and others, including a political contributor to the mayor.

Here to talk about this big ongoing investigation is WNYC reporter Robert Lewis. And Robert, to start, we know upwards of four police officials were charged today. What happened?

ROBERT LEWIS, BYLINE: Well, there was a sergeant in the gun licensing division of the NYPD who apparently accepted bribes in exchange for fast-tracking pistol licenses. There was a police officer in the same unit who already pleaded guilty to the alleged scheme, and the man who paid the bribes who runs a Orthodox Jewish security patrol - he's also been charged in that scheme.

CORNISH: And the others?

LEWIS: Well, two of the highest-ranking officers in the department - a deputy chief and a deputy inspector - they allegedly got expensive gifts, trips, even prostitutes from a politically connected businessman who in return got favors from these cops. This is actually U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara talking about the case, announcing the charges.

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PREET BHARARA: They got, in effect, a private police force for themselves and their friends. Effectively, they got cops on call.

CORNISH: Now, this is part of a larger investigation. How do these arrests tie into that?

LEWIS: Well, when news first broke in April, it sort of - there was this multi-tentacled probe, and these cases sort of start to fill in the blanks and show how they're connected. There was a Ponzi scheme up in Harlem. There's this gun licensing probe. Just earlier this month, the head of the jail guard union was arrested and charged with corruption. And many of these cases involve these same businessmen sort of using their money to get favors and influence with officials.

CORNISH: Now, how significant is this for the NYPD?

LEWIS: Well, it seems to be a pretty big deal. We've already seen close to a dozen high-ranking NYPD officials either put on modified duty or having left the department as part of this probe. And every 20 years, there really seems to be some sort of major corruption scandal in the NYPD, and we're pretty much at that 20 year mark.

Worth noting - Commissioner William Bratton sort of downplayed the notion that there is something deeper, bigger going on. He said that this isn't like those past probes, corruption investigations. This is just an issue with a few individuals.

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WILLIAM BRATTON: Police officers, especially high-ranking members of the department, have to know better, need to know better and have to set the example for others and have to follow the law.

LEWIS: In the charging documents, there are allegations that even lower-level officers sort of knew about what was going on. They were, you know, maybe pulling over someone on a parking ticket and knew that, oh, wait; this is a friend of the deputy chief, so maybe we should let them off. So I think there are some serious questions about how deep this went.

CORNISH: Before I let you go, what can you tell us about any connection there can be to the mayor's office?

LEWIS: The businessman who was paying these alleged bribes or giving gifts to these high-ranking police officials - one of them was Jeremy Reichberg. He's a fundraiser to the mayor. Certainly there's been a lot of chatter that these probes are looking at donors to the mayor. That being said, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara was very clear in today's press conference saying that this case does not connect directly to the mayor's office.

CORNISH: That's Robert Lewis from WNYC. Thank you for sharing your reporting.

LEWIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.