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Feds: Current, former NYPD officers among 12 charged in criminal conspiracy

By By Chris Boyette, CNN
updated 6:19 PM EDT, Tue October 25, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The charges stem from an undercover investigation that began in 2009, authorities say
  • The investigation was conducted by the FBI and the NYPD's internal affairs bureau
  • U.S. attorney: "A group of crime fighters took to moonlighting as criminals"
  • The conspiracy involved untraceable firearms, and purportedly stolen goods

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Five active and three retired officers of the New York Police Department are among 12 people charged Tuesday with conspiring to transport and distribute firearms and stolen goods, according to federal authorities.

"A group of crime fighters took to moonlighting as criminals," Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said at a press conference.

The defendants are charged in an alleged conspiracy to transport and distribute untraceable firearms across state lines. and conspiracy to transport supposedly stolen and counterfeit goods including cigarettes from Virginia and slot machines from Atlantic City, New Jersey.

The criminal complaint accuses the defendants of participating in the illegal transportation of goods with a street value estimated at more than $1 million.

The charges stem from an extensive undercover investigation that began in 2009, conducted by FBI and investigators from the NYPD's internal affairs bureau, Bharara said Tuesday. The investigation included a confidential informant, undercover law enforcement officers, surveillance, and telephone taps, according to court documents.

According to the official criminal complaint against the defendants, and the sworn deposition of FBI Special Agent Kennent Hosely, the current or former NYPD officers charged are William Masso, Eddie Goris, Ali Oklu, Gary Oritz, and John Mahony, all active-duty officers in Brooklyn; Joseph Trischitta and Marco Venezia, who were active-duty NYPD officers at the time of the alleged crimes but are now retired; and Richard Melnik, a retired NYPD officer. Also charged, federal authorities said, are Anthony Santiago, a New York City Department of Sanitation police officer; David Kanwisher, a New Jersey corrections officer; and Michael Gee and Eric Gomer, who court documents list as "associates" of Santiago.

None of the defendants' lawyers were available for comment Tuesday.

The criminal complaint alleges the lead defendant, Masso, met the confidential informant in 2009 and brought several of his fellow officers into the conspiracy to pull off various illegal schemes.

According to Bharara, four other officers who were not charged or listed in the criminal complaint but who had contact with Masso are on modified assignment as the NYPD's Internal Affairs Bureau investigates their actions.

As the charges were announced Tuesday, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said, "This is very disturbing and disheartening for members of the department and the public."

According to the charges filed Tuesday, the defendants were engaged in the theft and transport of over 200 cases of cigarettes from tractor-trailers in Virginia. The cigarettes were valued at over $500,000. Some defendants, authorities allege, helped undercover agents break into the trailers, some transported the illegal goods, and some helped sell them in New York.

Authorities said undercover agents contacted Masso on two separate occasions about the transport of purportedly stolen slot machines from Atlantic City to Port Chester, New York.

The criminal complaint alleges the defendants traveled to pick up the stolen goods. While some drove vans carrying the slot machines, others acted as a sort of security entourage, following the vans to insure they reached their destination charges federal authorities. The complaint alleges Masso instructed the other officers to carry their badges in case they were stopped by law enforcement.

In the case of the firearms, court documents say defendants drove the guns, along with cigarettes, in rented vans and their own personal vehicles into New York form New Jersey. Many of the weapons had the serial numbers altered or scraped off, rendering them untraceable. According to the complaint, as Masso drove his personal vehicle into New York with two bags full of firearms, "Masso's NYPD jacket was displayed in the window of his vehicle."

Prosecutors said that while the defendants all believed the items they transported were stolen; they had in fact been provided by the FBI. The firearms were never a danger to the public, authorities said, as they had been rendered inoperable.

"These crimes are without question, reprehensible -- particularly conspiring to import untraceable guns and assault rifles into New York," said Janice K. Fedarcyk, assistant director in charge of the FBI's New York division.

"The public trusts the police not only to enforce the law, but to obey it. These crimes, as alleged in the complaint, do nothing but undermine public trust and confidence in law enforcement."

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