Former New York City Police Department Official Pleads Guilty To Conspiring To Bribe Police Officers In Connection With Gun License Bribery Scheme
Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today the guilty plea of PAUL DEAN, to his role in a scheme to obtain approval of gun licenses by the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”) License Division in exchange for cash payments and non-monetary bribes. DEAN, once second-in-command of the License Division, pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery before U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said: “Paul Dean betrayed his duty as a former leader within the New York City Police Department to protect and serve the public. Instead of assuring the integrity of the License Division he oversaw – a division charged with protecting the public safety by restricting access to firearms – he sought to corrupt it by bribing the very officers once under his command. This Office will continue to stop such corruption which undermines the public’s confidence in the law enforcement officers and institutions sworn to serve us all.”
According to the Indictment and Complaint filed in this case, other public filings, and statements made during the plea proceeding:
DEAN was a member of the NYPD from 1994 through 2016, and was assigned to the License Division from 2008 through 2016. DEAN, a lieutenant, was one of the highest-ranking members of the License Division and, from approximately November 2014 through November 2015, regularly ran the day-to-day operations of the License Division. Robert Espinel was a member of the NYPD from 1995 through his retirement in 2016, and was assigned to the License Division from 2011 through 2016.
From at least 2013 through 2016, multiple NYPD officers in the License Division serving under DEAN’s command, including David Villanueva and Richard Ochetal, solicited and accepted bribes from gun license expediters in exchange for providing assistance to the expediters’ clients in obtaining gun licenses quickly and often with little to no diligence. They obtained bribes from at least three expediters: Gaetano Valastro, a/k/a “Guy,” Frank Soohoo, and Alex Lichtenstein, a/k/a “Shaya.” Valastro was a former NYPD detective who retired in 1999, and who operated a gun store out of which he sold guns, gun paraphernalia, and gun safety courses.
The bribes included cash payments, paid vacations, food and liquor, the services of prostitutes, and free guns, among other things. In exchange, Villanueva, Ochetal, and the other officers approved, expedited, and upgraded licenses for clients of Valastro, Lichtenstein, and Soohoo. They did so by foregoing standard License Division diligence, including by failing to interview the applicants and failing to investigate the business-based need for applicants to carry guns. They approved licenses for individuals with substantial criminal histories, including arrests and convictions for crimes involving weapons or violence, and for individuals with histories of domestic violence.
In 2015, dissatisfied with the fact that private gun expediters were profiting thousands of dollars per gun license applicant when DEAN and others did the work to approve those applications, DEAN and Espinel decided to retire and go into the expediting business themselves. In order to ensure the success of their business, DEAN and Espinel planned to bribe Villanueva and Ochetal, who were still in the License Division, to enable their clients to get special treatment. They also agreed with Valastro to run their expediting and bribery scheme out of Valastro’s gun store. According to the plan, Valastro would benefit from the scheme because DEAN and Espinel would steer successful applicants to Valastro’s store to buy guns. They also tried to corner the expediting market by forcing other expediters to work through them. DEAN and Espinel attempted to coerce Frank Soohoo, another gun license expediter, into sharing his expediting clients with them by threatening to use their influence in the License Division to shut down Soohoo’s expediting business if Soohoo refused to work with, and make payments to, DEAN and Espinel.
DEAN, 44, of Wantagh, New York, pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery. The charge carries a maximum term of five years in prison. DEAN is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Ramos on November 15, 2018. The maximum potential penalty is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.
Mr. Berman praised the investigative work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New York City Police Department, Internal Affairs Bureau.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Public Corruption Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Russell Capone and Kimberly Ravener are in charge of the prosecution.