Police Arrested On Gun-Smuggling Charges

Five officers in the New York Police Department have been arrested on charges of smuggling guns, cigarettes and slot machines they thought were stolen. Three retired NYPD officers and a New Jersey corrections officer are also charged.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Now, to New York City where this morning, eight former and current members of the police department were arrested. They face charges of smuggling guns and other property.

As NPR's Joel Rose reports, the arrests come at a time when the NYPD is already facing a range of corruption allegations.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: The investigation that led to today's arrests started with a conversation about ticket-fixing in 2009. From there, law-enforcement officials say it grew into a full-fledged smuggling investigation. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara announced the charges at a news conference today in Manhattan.

PREET BHARARA: The complaint describes how a group of crime fighters took to moonlighting as criminals, and how a number of men once charged with enforcing the law are now charged with breaking it.

ROSE: Bharara says the defendants conspired to transport what they thought were stolen goods, including cigarettes and slot machines, across state lines.

BHARARA: These goods were not in fact stolen. They were supplied by an undercover officer working under the direction and supervision of the FBI, in close coordination with the NYPD's Internal Affairs Bureau.

ROSE: The defendants are also charged with smuggling weapons, including handguns and M-16 assault rifles, which had their serial numbers removed to make them more difficult to trace. According to the complaint unsealed today, the case centers around Officer William Masso, an 18-year veteran of the NYPD. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly says it was Masso who recruited younger officers into the conspiracy.

RAYMOND KELLY: The most disturbing aspect was that according to the complaint, William Masso actually saw what he must have certainly believed to be operational firearms. For all he knew, they were fully capable of being fired at a human being.

ROSE: In fact, the guns had been rendered inoperable. The motive, prosecutors say, was a basic one - money. The defendants allegedly received more than $100,000 total in cash payments for their roles in the scheme. According to U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, the defendants put their law-enforcement backgrounds to work, using their credentials and training to make sure the operations would be successful.

BHARARA: For example, in a meeting before one of the stolen slot-machine deals, Officer Masso allegedly suggested to the other defendants that they carry their badges during the operation so that if stopped, they could say they were just off-duty cops delivering items somebody had purchased at an auction.

ROSE: The charges come at a time when public confidence in the NYPD is already being tested. A narcotics detective recently testified that his colleagues in Brooklyn and Queens planted drugs on suspects in order to make their arrest quotas. And an investigation into ticket-fixing in the Bronx will reportedly yield charges soon. But Commissioner Kelly insists New Yorkers should have faith in the department.

KELLY: I don't believe corruption is on the rise. We have over a thousand people in the department focused on internal investigations. It's as many people as we devote to counterterrorism because there's no question about it: A case like this is disheartening to the entire department.

ROSE: Officer Masso and the other defendants have yet to comment on the charges against them.

Joel Rose, NPR News, New York.

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