By Anthony M. Destefano, Staff Writer
Copyright 2006 Newsday, Inc.
A tearful ex-cop begged for mercy Friday and got it when a federal judge in Brooklyn sentenced him to 7 years in prison, much less than the possible life term he faced for ripping off hundreds of thousands of dollars from drug dealers.
Thomas Rachko, 46, of the Bronx, told Judge Carol B. Amon that his compulsive gambling helped push him to steal the drug money over a five-year period in a scandal that implicated a number of other officers.
"Every time I got money, I gambled it away right away," Rachko told Amon. "And I now realize it wasn't so much to try to have that big win. I just wanted to gamble. I wanted the action."
Rachko, who retired from the NYPD in 2002, pleaded guilty in 2004 to charges that he was involved in a scheme in which he and others ripped off the dealers and hoarded the cash.
He was arrested in late November 2003 with then-Det. Julio Vasquez after they were both spotted by members of a drug enforcement task force taking cash from a drug trafficker in Queens.
Friday, defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman reminded Amon that it had been Rachko who made the quick decision after his arrest to cooperate with investigators and led them to $68,000 stashed in a trash container in the Bronx.
Investigators said Rachko told them he pulled in about $800,000 from the scheme.
Because Rachko was perceived by prosecutors to have obstructed justice, he could have faced life in prison under federal sentencing guidelines. But Lichtman argued that, in the end. his client didn't obstruct justice and did nothing worse than Vasquez. Vasquez was sentenced earlier this month to 6 years in prison.
"This isn't a greedy man," added Lichtman.
Rachko, who often dabbed tears from his face with a handkerchief as Lichtman spoke, struggled to maintain his composure when he addressed Amon.
"My crimes, as terrible as they are, and my gambling addiction, in early 2003, caused me to be separated from my wife, Sandy, an unwanted separation by myself," said Rachko through sobs.
"I am here today to be punished. I deserve to be punished," said Rachko to Amon. "I humbly ask for your mercy today not only for myself, but for my continued recovery and for my children."
Amon said Rachko's crimes were "extraordinarily grave" and that he had a leadership role in the scheme. But she acknowledged that he was contrite and showed remorse.
In addition to the prison sentence, Amon fined Rachko $10,000. She allowed him to surrender to federal prison officials early next year. Rachko remains free on bail until then.
Ex-N.Y. cop gets 7 years in scheme