Sources: NYPD officers eyed in ticket fixing probe

April 19, 2011 4:26:42 AM PDT
A driver gets a summons for speeding in Queens. He asks a police officer friend to help make it go away. The officer calls a union delegate who assures her that whoever wrote the ticket will be instructed to "fix it before trial."

That sequence, though hardly surprising, is fueling a brewing ticket-fixing scandal at the New York Police Department.

Up to 40 officers are being eyed for possible official misconduct and criminal charges in the Bronx, and scores more could be disciplined administratively, two law enforcement officials and another person familiar with the case told The Associated Press on Monday. The criminal cases could be brought as early as July, the third person said.

One of the officials dismissed reports suggesting that the case had exposed a pattern of officers asking for or receiving gifts in exchange for fixing tickets and that it could rival past headline-grabbing corruption scandals at the nation's largest police department. All the charges are likely to be misdemeanors, the official said.

All three spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the case is the subject of a secret grand jury investigation. Police, Bronx prosecutors and the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the city's largest police union, each declined to comment Monday.

Last week, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly refused to discuss multiple news reports about the investigation, saying only that, "We expect officers to enforce the law objectively."

The practice of fixing tickets - tearing up paperwork on traffic citations before it reaches court as a favor to officers' friends and family - has been around for years. But the case appears to be the first time authorities have treated it as a criminal or even a disciplinary issue.

One union official complained Monday that the intensity and scope of an investigation that's relied heavily on wiretaps are overkill.

"I'm concerned as to how much of a witch hunt this actually is," said Edward Mullins, president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association. "The whole department has been aware of this and turned a blind eye to it. You can't pretend you didn't know it existed."

The three people familiar with the case told the AP that the NYPD's Internal Affairs Bureau stumbled across evidence of the widespread ticket fixing in Bronx precincts while investigating an officer suspected of wrongdoing in a drug case in 2009. On a wiretap, authorities overhead talk of ticket fixing and decided to begin secretly recording other officers.

Internal affairs turned over evidence to the Bronx district attorney's office, which launched a grand jury investigation expected to result in charges against union delegates or others who did the actual ticket fixing, the people said. Police officers caught asking for favors would face only internal administrative charges, the people added.

Aside from the investigation, the department also responded to the revelations last fall by installing a new computer system that tracks tickets and makes it much harder to tamper with the paper trail.

An unrelated drunken driving case in the Bronx has provided a window into the investigation. Prosecutors were forced to disclose to the defense that the arresting officer was among those recorded talking about ticket fixing and to turn over a tape of the conversation.

According to transcript of the tape detailed by The New York Times, a union delegate tells an officer, "I'll get this taken care of" by having a ticket issued to a girlfriend of the officer's cousin pulled the next day.

"We'll speak to the officer and then fix it before trial," the delegate said.

The officer also said in pretrial testimony in the drunken driving case this month that she had a ticket fixed for her mother.

The alleged fixer was "a delegate," she testified, according to a transcript. "That's what they told us in the department - you can call your delegate if you need a ticket fixed for a family member."

She quoted her mother as being pleased with the results.

"That's it," the mother said. "Everything is done. Everything is fine."