AP: New York pols among those with tickets fixed

April 22, 2011 3:09:15 PM PDT
Several high-ranking members of city government and a New York Yankees official are among those who had their traffic tickets fixed by police officers, a person familiar with a probe into the practice at the New York Police Department told The Associated Press on Thursday.

The person, speaking to the AP on condition of anonymity, did not name the officials or say how many were involved. The person also confirmed an online news report that Yankees senior director of operations Douglas Behar had a traffic ticket fixed.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the case is the subject of a secret grand jury investigation. The Yankees didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

The details shed light on the prevalence of the practice - undoing paperwork on traffic citations before they reach court as favors to officers' friends or relatives. The practice has been going on for years but came under fire recently after the NYPD's Internal Affairs Bureau stumbled across evidence of widespread fixing in Bronx precincts while investigating an officer suspected of wrongdoing in a drug case in 2009, law enforcement officials said. On a wiretap, authorities overheard talk of ticket fixing and decided to begin secretly recording other officers.

No criminal charges have been filed. But up to 40 officers are being eyed for possible official misconduct and criminal charges in the Bronx, and scores more could be disciplined administratively, law enforcement officials have said. The criminal cases could be brought as early as July, and the charges are expected to be misdemeanors, they said. Investigators also are probing whether any of the officers accepted money or gifts.

There are generally three ways the citations are fixed: They are voided by a ranking official, a copy is ripped up before it reaches court or the officer doesn't appear on the day of the summons.

Former NYPD brass and officials with the union representing ranking officers are questioning why the practice, which was frowned upon and dealt with internally before, is now being handled as a possible criminal matter.

"It was done during my 35 years, and it was probably done 135 years prior," said Lou Anemone, a former chief of department who retired in 1999. "We handled the issues administratively. They'd come and go over time. Once you found out, you'd take steps, and integrity officers would follow up on missing numbers."

Anemone said when he was in the police department the summonses were kept in a box that was generally left open and anyone could fish out a ticket and toss it. Once people were caught doing that, the box would get locked for a while but would inevitably end up open again.

Last fall, the police department, which has about 35,000 officers and is easily the nation's biggest, installed a new computer system that tracks tickets and makes it much more difficult to tamper with the paper trail.

Anemone said it was friends and family, but also neighbors and city officials, asking for the favors.

"It was the local congressman who gets ticketed in front of his office or the parishioners who got tickets for double-parking during services," Anemone said. "They were favors for friends and neighbors."

A former commanding officer of the NYPD's movie and television unit in the 1990s, Milton Maldonado, said movie crews filming in the city would get dozens of summonses that would be taken to the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting to be voided.

"The movie industry understood that if anything happened during the time they were shooting, if they didn't show their permit or whatever and they were issued a summons, they'd flock to the mayor's office to get it fixed," said Maldonado, who retired in 1995.

Maldonado left years before Mayor Michael Bloomberg's tenure.

City Hall did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether the practice existed.

The head of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, Ed Mullins, has said the intensity and scope of an investigation that's relied heavily on wiretaps are overkill.

"I have been on the job for nearly three decades, and it was never deemed unusual to get calls from high-ranking department members when a summons was given to their family members," he said in a letter to members. "These phone calls were as much a part of the culture of the department as arresting criminals."

The information on the Yankees official was first reported by a columnist with the city news website DNAinfo.com.

Police, Bronx prosecutors and the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the city's largest police union, have declined to comment.