NEW YORK (AP) — A member of a neighborhood patrol was charged Monday with bribery and conspiracy after federal officials said he was caught on wiretap bragging that he used his connections in the New York Police Department to obtain more than 150 gun licenses for people who wouldn't otherwise qualify for them.
Alex Lichtenstein was charged in federal court in Manhattan. His lawyer did not immediately return a message seeking comment. The NYPD transferred the head of the license division and a sergeant and officer, who were also stripped of their guns and badges and put on desk duty pending a review.
Lichtenstein, also known as Shaya, was a member of the Shomrim patrol based in Borough Park, Brooklyn, a volunteer organization specifically for Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods made up of ostensibly unarmed members. Patrol members cooperate with the police and wear jackets or vests issued by the department. Their shield looks very similar to the NYPD's.
According to court papers, Lichtenstein conspired with at least three members of the NYPD's license division and others from 2013 through February to pay bribes to obtain gun permits. He said his customers needed his services "because the License Division would otherwise reject applications 'for the biggest stupidity,' such as a history of moving violations," the court papers said.
He bragged about connections with an unnamed officer and sergeant, but when he tried to bribe a sergeant there, the sergeant informed internal affairs and caught Lichtenstein on a wire, officials said. On the wiretap, Lichtenstein said he paid about $6,000 for the licenses. At least two officers said they received "lunch money" in exchange for helping him, according to the complaint.
The mission of the Shomrin includes stopping criminal activity and locating missing people. In many neighborhoods, its members are the first call — not law enforcement. The group has about 150 members who are all required to volunteer at least one night a month. Dispatchers take hotline calls and send out patrols. Volunteers pay for their own gas. Expenses like office rent and two-way radios are funded by donations with some support from local elected officials.
The arrest came as federal investigators continue to probe whether police officials accepted gifts in exchange for favors. Federal agents interviewed at least 20 officers on whether they accepted gifts in exchange for favors from two businessmen who gave money to Mayor Bill de Blasio's 2008 mayoral campaign and others.
Police Commissioner William Bratton said Monday the probe would "continue to go where the leads take us."
Five other senior officials were also reassigned and a community affairs detective was suspended after he refused to testify before a grand jury.
No other criminal charges have been filed.