A Widening Inquiry Focuses on NYPD Officers Tied to Drug Money
The police corruption investigation that began when a New York City detective and his retired partner were seen taking $169,000 from a drug courier has grown to include as many as 10 other active or retired officers, several people with knowledge of the investigation said yesterday.
Among those under scrutiny are three retired police supervisors, including a lieutenant and Columbia University graduate who has told investigators of his own acts and has implicated former colleagues, a law enforcement official said. Also under investigation are two narcotics detectives implicated by the men involved in the initial robbery and five other current members of the force, said two of the people who know about the investigation.
The investigation, which is being conducted by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, the Police Department's Internal Affairs Bureau and members of a joint local and federal task force, has found that the two men took about $1.5 million in drugs and cash from dealers, the law enforcement official said.
The investigation has determined that the two men sought out drug dealers and cash couriers based on tips gathered from the streets, one person with knowledge of the case said. In some cases, they detained the dealers and couriers, took their drugs or cash, and then set them free, that person said. In others, they simply roamed Upper Manhattan looking for likely targets on the streets. One law enforcement official said the men turned the narcotics over to one of at least three drug dealers, who then sold them and provided the two men with their cut.
Investigators seized $744,370 in cash late last year from a storage locker rented by one of the two men, Julio C. Vasquez, a second-grade detective until he resigned from the force soon after his November arrest, according to a formal indictment filed last month. The indictment charges Mr. Vasquez and his retired partner, Thomas Rachko, with money laundering, conspiracy to distribute cocaine, lying to federal agents and use of a firearm in a crime.
Both Mr. Vasquez and Mr. Rachko, as well as the retired lieutenant, John Maguire, have provided details of their actions to prosecutors in the office of the United States attorney in Brooklyn, Roslyn R. Mauskopf, in hopes of winning a cooperation agreement that would bring them reduced prison sentences, several law enforcement officials have said.
Detective Carlos Rodriguez, one of two active detectives implicated by the Mr. Vasquez and Mr. Rachko, has also spoken with prosecutors, one of the officials said. His lawyer did not return a call seeking comment.
Investigators believe that the implicated officers did not commit crimes as an organized group but acted as individuals. Almost all of the officers worked at one time or another in an aggressive antidrug unit called the Northern Manhattan Initiative, which focused on Harlem, Washington Heights and other Upper Manhattan neighborhoods, several officials said.
The number of people under scrutiny, including Mr. Rachko and Mr. Vasquez, has climbed to 12.
Several officials said yesterday that they were still working to corroborate accusations of misconduct against some of the officers, and it remains unclear whether charges will actually be brought against all of them.
The investigation is the biggest police corruption case in a decade - since rampant drug-fueled police crime in the 30th Precinct gained it the nickname Dirty 30.
Mr. Rachko and Mr. Vasquez had already been charged in criminal complaints with lying to federal investigators and with state crimes tied to the $169,000 robbery on Nov. 26, in which they conspired with a drug money courier to steal cash he was dropping off to be laundered, officials have said. Federal agents and police detectives with the El Dorado Task Force, a federal Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement unit that investigates money laundering, had the courier under surveillance and caught the theft on videotape, according to court papers.
The formal filing of the indictment of Mr. Vasquez and Mr. Rachko was first reported yesterday in The Daily News. The indictment, which listed the amount of money discovered to be in the possession of Mr. Vasquez but did not provide details of the investigation, was quietly handed up on Feb. 26.
Two people with knowledge of the case said prosecutors appeared close to making a deal with Mr. Vasquez but have been skeptical of some of Mr. Rachko's statements, including a claim that he gambled away all the money he made robbing cash and drugs from dealers.
Mr. Vasquez, Mr. Rachko and Christian Joel Hernandez, the courier who was their accomplice in the initial theft, were scheduled to be arraigned on the new indictment on Friday. Eric Franz, a lawyer for Mr. Vasquez, said his client would plead not guilty at his arraignment.
Mr. Rachko's lawyer, Jeffrey H. Lichtman, would not discuss details of the case but acknowledged that his client has "a very serious gambling problem" and said he would plead not guilty on Friday.
Detective Eric T. Wolfe, who like Detective Rodriguez worked at one time in the Northern Manhattan Initiative and more recently at the elite federal Drug Enforcement Task Force, has also come under scrutiny and, like Detective Rodriguez, has been reassigned to desk duty, officials have said. His lawyer, John Arlia, declined comment on the case.
Mr. Maguire, the retired lieutenant, did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
The investigation is proceeding along two tracks. Prosecutors from Ms. Mauskopf's office and police Internal Affairs investigators are focusing on corroborating the corruption accusations against the retired and active officers, while members of the El Dorado Task Force are investigating the drug dealers who resold drugs for Mr. Rachko and Mr. Vasquez.
Paul J. Browne, the Police Department's chief spokesman, said yesterday that Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly was deeply troubled by the corruption accusations. Mr. Browne contended that the investigation had broadened in part because of the Internal Affairs Bureau's work on the case. He also said that Mr. Kelly has promoted three detectives who were assigned to the El Dorado Task Force because of their role in catching Mr. Rachko and Mr. Vasquez.