At two seconds past 1:07 a.m. on October 10, 2005, a caller was connected to the Port Authority Police desk and said, “Yes, hi. I’m at Grove Street [PATH station]. . . . Somebody touched me. Send somebody over, please.” When the officer, Gene Kreig, inquired further, the caller elaborated: “They had their hand down my pants and I didn’t like it. It wasn’t authorized. Can you send somebody over, please?”
Suspicious, the cop asked, “Is this some sort of a joke?” The caller hung up. Two minutes later, same person: “Sir, I’m still getting touched. Sir, can you help me?” The caller immediately hung up. Neither conversation registered on caller ID. It seemed like a run-of-the-mill prank call. But what followed was enough to make even the Jerky Boys blush.
Those were the first two of 17 prank calls placed during the next hour and 40 minutes to separate Port Authority police command centers, in Journal Square in Jersey and New York’s Port Authority bus terminal. The calls descended into crude, abusive rants attacking Greeks, Irish, blacks, Italians, gays—reserving a particularly demeaning racial slur for a Port Authority cop who had died only a few days before.
Eventually, authorities pinned the calls on Elias Langguth of the Bronx. Langguth had made the calls on his cell phone while drinking inside a Bronx gin joint called the Fiddler’s Elbow.
He was a Port Authority cop.
Assistant District Attorney James Goward, who prosecuted the case, declined to comment, saying that Langguth has yet to be sentenced. But in a press release, the district attorney’s office noted that one of Langguth’s abrasive calls referred to a “dead fucking monkey” and that the comment was aimed at a black Port Authority cop who had died just a few days before in a motorcycle accident. The D.A.’s office pointed out that the cop “had not yet been buried when the slurs were made.”
The case had been kicked to Port Authority Internal Affairs because it had soon looked like a good bet that although the caller’s phone had a block on it, the prankster was a cop in the agency. During one call, the prankster referred to a PAPD union boss, Gus Danese. He also dropped PAPD jargon like “I’m a sho” (pronounced “shoe”), which stands for stationhouse officer—in other words, a desk jockey.
Listening to tapes of the calls, two Internal Affairs officers thought they recognized the distinctive cadence and accent as Langguth’s. Over the next few months, they subpoenaed Langguth’s cell-phone records and matched calls he made to the times and numbers of the prank calls. All the calls were connected through a cell tower a block away from the Fiddler’s Elbow. They later found people inside the bar who put Langguth, a 35-year-old white guy from the Bronx of German and Irish ancestry, there that morning while off duty. He was arrested on June 14, 2006.
This past December 10, after a bench trial, Bronx Supreme Court Judge Denis Boyle found Langguth guilty of falsely reporting a crime and of two counts of aggravated harassment. He was acquitted of three other harassment charges. Already suspended without pay and virtually assured of being fired, Langguth faces up to a year in jail on each charge when Boyle sentences him on January 30.
The D.A.’s position at trial was simple: The cops believed Langguth enough to check out his complaint, and his calls were made for no other reason than to harass.
Langguth’s attorney, Robert Simels, is appealing. During the trial, he argued that the identification was shaky, especially since other men chimed in during the torrent of calls. He argued that the cops who received the calls were in on the joke and “gave as good as they got.” (According to the transcript, one cop told the prankster, “Hey, does your mother part her hair in the middle of her head or on the side, ’cause I’m looking down at her. I can’t tell.”)
Simels contended that the language used—including the n-word—was offensive but not criminal. And even if Langguth did it—which Simels wasn’t conceding—”intoxication is a defense to the issue of intent. Whoever was on the phone—and there were three voices—they were clearly intoxicated. The evidence at the trial was that they had been drinking shots, beers, and hard drinks from 2 p.m. on the 9th to 3 in the morning on the 10th.”
The Voice left a message with a woman who answered the phone at Langguth’s home. So far, Langguth hasn’t called back with a comment—abrasive or otherwise.