Trippin' On A Hooker

Pushcart James Says He Saw a Man Beat a Prostitute Named Pork Chop. Pushcart Is a Dope Fiend. The Alleged John Is a Policeman.

On a sweltering afternoon last week, a self-confessed "dope sick" protector of a prostitution ring lay strung out on a squalid sidewalk on 131st Street and Park Avenue near the Metro North station in East Harlem. "Pushcart James," as his friends call him, had crawled into an oversized black garbage bag several hours earlier to sleep off his crack cocaine high.

On observing a reporter and a taxi driver approach, a burn-scarred woman sprang from a broken folding chair and frantically began to poke the crackhead awake. While keeping a suspicious eye on the strangers, who had been canvassing the neighborhood for weeks in search of him, the woman repeatedly shouted, "James, the police mens are here to talk to you again!"

"What police mens?" a phlegm-choked voice eventually rattled from under the plastic bag that seemed to keep the shivering dope addict warm in 88-degree weather. "I don't want to talk to no muthafuckin' cops," says James, a grimey, bearded man peering from under the stinking blanket.

But several minutes later, assured that "the mens" were not cops returning to question him, Pushcart James, his right arm in a sling, began to talk freely about the night of March 12, when South Bronx undercover police officer Efrain Colon allegedly discharged his weapon during a tryst gone sour with an Uptown call girl.

It was the same story James says he and five other witnesses told to NYPD Internal Affairs investigators and prosecutors from the Manhattan District Attorney's office. Their accusations led to Colon, 28, being charged with first-degree reckless endangerment and two counts of attempted assault.

Colon was suspended for 30 days without pay. By city law, he was returned to the department, had his badge and gun taken away, and put on desk duty pending the outcome of a departmental hearing. But in a legal twist, the Manhattan D.A. recently dropped all of the charges against Colon and sealed the records, according to a law-enforcement source.

"The theory is that there was a struggle over the officer's gun," says the source. "She [the prostitute] was trying to steal his gun and the district attorney couldn't establish that he had committed a crime."

The prosecutor's office refuses to comment on the investigation.

On Monday, NYPD spokesperson Marilyn Mode said Internal Affairs was unaware of the D.A.'s action. "The allegations are that he picked up this prostitute, they got into a dispute, a shot was fired in the car, he got out of the car and fired another shot, and he ran away," Mode explained, adding that the department viewed the allegations against Colon "very seriously and, if they are true, will be dealt with severely."

Colon could not be reached for comment, and Mode refused to say where he is currently assigned.

Officer Colon's alleged misconduct is the latest in a series of prostitution scandals plaguing the department.

Last July more than a dozen cops the Midtown South Precinct were stripped of their guns and badges for allegedly protecting a brothel on West 39th Street. Only four have been charged. Internal Affairs and the Manhattan D.A. began investigating the 400-officer Midtown South Precinct in 1996 after receiving tips from several prostitutes.

Shortly after the scandal broke, the police commissioner said investigators found that the sex-for-peace trade may have been going on for 15 years. The brothel had been in operation for about 20 years before it closed last summer.

On April 27, officers Stephen Buscarino and James Gombach were indicted for accepting cash and sexual favors from prostitutes running the brothel. Buscarino, 34, and Gombach, 37, are accused of tipping the madam who ran the brothel to the possibility of raids.

According to Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, as a reward for looking the other way, the madam gave the cops thousands of dollars in cash, gifts such as airline tickets and jewelry, and the sexual services of prostitutes. Cooperating cops also got a place to goof off or sleep, the D.A. added.

Both Buscarino, a 13-year veteran, and Gombach, who has been on the force for 15 years, pleaded not guilty to charges of promoting prostitution, receiving bribes, falsifying business records, and official misconduct. They are free without bail and on restricted duty.

Two other officers, Lawrence Levine and James Trout, pleaded guilty earlier this month in the scandal. Both have resigned. Levine, 39, an officer for 13 years, pleaded guilty to receiving bribes, and Trout, 36, on the job for eight years, pleaded guilty to receiving a reward for official misconduct.

In the most recent incident, according to a criminal complaint, Internal Affairs officers became aware in February that police were patronizing two brothels, at 147-16 Archer Avenue and 147-21 Jamaica Avenue in Queens, and began staking out the locations.

Between April 20 and May 25, Officer Damian Conlon, 38, allegedly was observed entering the Archer Avenue brothel while on duty. An undercover officer who had posed as a patron stated in the complaint that on May 15, while at the brothel, he saw Conlon, who was assigned to bicycle patrol, enter a private room with a prostitute.

The undercover officer also claimed that a brothel employee told him "not to worry about the defendant's presence in the brothel because the defendant was not there to make arrests but to patronize prostitutes."

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