By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
By Roy Edroso
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
By Zachary D. Roberts
October 31, 2007: Glen Smokler, a 13-year NYPD veteran assigned to Harlem's 30th Precinct, is charged on Halloween with being one of the leaders of a Canada-to-New-York marijuana ring that authorities say generated about $2 million a month. Police from Suffolk County, Long Island, make the case, arresting 28 people and seizing $3 million in cash, 23 luxury cars, a 44-foot yacht, 10 assault rifles, and more than 100 pounds of pot.
November 2007: Hubertus "Dutch" Vannes, who had recently resigned from the NYPD, is arrested by Nassau County cops after they find in his home a gun stolen from the Queens precinct where he had been a cop, 11 other loaded pistols, more than $37,000 in cash, and almost 2,000 prescription pills he was allegedly peddling.
January 31, 2008: The FBI gets an indictment charging Brooklyn cop Luis Batista with conspiring with a crew of cocaine dealers.
February 2008: Detective Wayne Taylor is charged with pimping out a 13-year-old girl whom he and his hooker girlfriend were allegedly holding against her will in his Queens home. According to a published report, Internal Affairs had looked into Taylor back in 2003 after the police were called to a domestic dispute involving him and a young runaway who had turned to prostitution. But IAB ultimately passed, deeming it a "misconduct case" and letting Taylor's unit investigate him. Taylor later received a slap on the wrist—he was docked a few days' vacation—after the girl refused to cooperate, the report states.
Not everyone in the IAB, however, is sitting around doing nothing. The January 31 Batista indictment relates how Sergeant Henry Conde of the IAB tipped off Batista and another cop that the rat squad was investigating them.
Maybe IAB investigators aren't finding more crooked cops these days because more and more of their time is being spent "dumping" (i.e., tracing) the cellular phones of detectives and making other efforts to uncover leaks to the media in high-profile cases, according to police sources speaking to the Voice on the condition of anonymity. Those were the orders, sources say, after word was leaked to the media that the NYPD suspected bouncer Daryl Littlejohn in the February 2006 murder of Imette St. Guillen, a 24-year-old John Jay graduate student who had been drinking at the Falls, a Lafayette Street bar. A source says some cops in that case subsequently received punitive "letters of instruction" in their files and were docked days of pay. Such phone traces were at least threatened in the cases of the accidental overdose of actor Heath Ledger and, most recently, the grisly murder of Upper East Side psychologist Kathryn Faughey, sources tell the Voice. And in both cases, detectives were called in for questioning about leaks to the media.
Sometimes the IAB spends a lot of time and money on big cases, and sometimes it pays off.
This past September, in a case that fell into the IAB's lap, Brooklyn narcotics detective Sean Johnstone told another undercover cop—who apparently didn't know that a hidden recording device was on—that he had vouchered only 17 of 28 ziplocked bags of cocaine seized from a man he'd arrested earlier that day. Johnstone told the other officer that he used the pilfered coke to pay off informants. Police officials claimed that Johnstone was only "cutting corners," avoiding the usual departmental paperwork to obtain money to pay informants who likely would just wind up buying drugs anyway.
The recording was eventually turned over to the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office as part of the drug case, and prosecutors notified the IAB. A sting was set up to determine whether other Brooklyn narcotics cops were doing the same. On January 18, Sergeant Michael Arenella and Officer Jerry Bowen were arrested after failing to voucher 40 bags of cocaine seized from an undercover IAB agent.
This investigation has led to four cops being arrested, six others suspended, and two placed on modified duty. The citywide narcotics commander has been replaced and the head of Brooklyn South Narcotics transferred. The Brooklyn DA has already tossed out 202 cases and expects that number to perhaps double, according to Jerry Schmetterer, the district attorney's spokesman.
This result was in stark contrast to another recent case that the IAB considered big.
In December 2004, a confidential informant accused Officer Jai Aiken of being a gun runner and drug dealer. After nine months and 3,000 man-hours, the IAB couldn't substantiate the charges. So in August 2005, the rat squad sent an undercover agent to a popular cruising spot near City College in Harlem to try to get the goods on the openly gay Aiken, who had a clean record during his 13 years on the force. The officer later testified that whenever he spoke about guns or drugs, all Aiken wanted to talk about was sex. (An IAB sergeant leading the Aiken probe testified that it was first time he could recall that an undercover cop posed as a potential gay lover.)
Five months into the new operation, the focus on guns and drugs was dropped. Instead, the undercover cop sold Aiken an iPod for $150. Then, in February 2006, he sold Aiken a $3,000 flat-screen television for $1,200, saying he needed the money to move his mother out of the projects. IAB officials said it was clear that Aiken knew these items were supposedly stolen. Aiken tells the Voice that the undercover explained that he had a friend who worked at Best Buy and was getting a store discount.