Monday, April 18, 2016
Neighborhood Safety Patrol Member Bragged In Recorded Conversation of 150 Gun Licenses
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Diego Rodriguez, Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), and William J. Bratton, Commissioner of the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”), announced today that ALEX LICHTENSTEIN, a/k/a “Shaya,” was arrested and charged in Manhattan federal court with bribery and conspiracy to commit bribery in connection with his efforts to pay bribes to obtain gun licenses through the NYPD’s License Division. LICHTENSTEIN was arrested by FBI agents and officers from the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau (“IAB”) on April 17, 2016, in Pomona, New York, and will be presented before U.S. Magistrate Judge Henry B. Pitman in Manhattan this afternoon.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “As alleged, Alex Lichtenstein sought to bribe police officers with thousands of dollars to obtain gun licenses. Just a few days ago, claiming that his prior connections in the License Department were no longer able to help, Lichtenstein allegedly attempted to bribe another officer. As alleged, Lichtenstein offered the officer $6,000 per license, bragging that he had already used his NYPD connections to obtain 150 gun licenses. Corruption in any part of government cuts at the very fabric of our society. But it is particularly damaging when it undermines public safety. I thank the FBI and the New York City Police Department, particularly its Internal Affairs Bureau, for their dedication and commitment to this ongoing and important investigation.”
FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Diego Rodriquez said, “The requirements for obtaining a legal gun license are there for very specific reasons, and the details of this case illustrate why those regulations are needed. This bribery scheme allowed a man to obtain a gun who made a threat against someone’s life. It’s further alarming that Lichtenstein bragged about beating the system and potentially put the general public in danger.”
NYPD Commissioner William J. Bratton said: “This case was developed as part of a long-term joint investigation by the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the United States Attorney’s Office. As we have previously stated, this investigation will continue to go where the leads take us.”
According to the allegations in the Complaint filed today in Manhattan federal
LICHTENSTEIN is a member of the Borough Park Shomrim, a volunteer, ostensibly unarmed Orthodox Jewish patrol society whose mission includes combating criminal activity and locating missing people. In April 2016, LICHTENSTEIN approached an officer for the NYPD and offered the officer cash bribes in order for the officer to help LICHTENSTEIN obtain gun licenses for LICHTENSTEIN’s customers from the NYPD’s License Division. The License Division is responsible for reviewing, investigating, and approving or disapproving all applications for gun licenses in New York City. LICHTENSTEIN told the officer that he charged customers thousands of dollars to help obtain License Division approval for their gun license applications, and that he was able to get the licenses approved using his own connections in the License Division, although those connections had recently cut him out.
The officer did not agree to assist LICHTENSTEIN, and reported the encounter to IAB. Working with the FBI and IAB, the officer set up and recorded a meeting with LICHTENSTEIN, at which LICHTENSTEIN offered the officer $6,000 per license application that the officer could help get through the License Division. In that recorded meeting, LICHTENSTEIN told the officer that he had obtained gun licenses for approximately 150 individuals in the past, and that his customers needed his services because the License Division would otherwise reject applications “for the biggest stupidity,” such as a history of moving violations. LICHTENSTEIN boasted that he was able to use his connections in the License Division to “expedite” the application process, i.e., to forego the full investigation typically conducted before the NYPD License Division approves or disapproves an application. The officer asked LICHTENSTEIN if his previous connections in the License Division were making money, to which LICHTENSTEIN responded “now they cut down, now nobody’s making money.”
In fact, LICHTENSTEIN had substantial connections to a sergeant (“Sergeant-1”) who had worked at the License Division for more than a decade. A Commanding Officer at the NYPD with whom Sergeant-1 was friendly introduced LICHTENSTEIN to the License Division and Sergeant-1 in or about 2013. From that introduction through early 2016, LICHTENSTEIN spent significant time at the License Division with Sergeant-1, often on a near daily basis. Sergeant-1 frequently bragged about his relationship with the Commanding Officer and the Hasidic Jewish community. In early 2016, Sergeant-1 told others at the NYPD License Division, in sum and in substance, that LICHTENSTEIN charged his customers $18,000 per gun license, and that, at some point in time, the deputy inspector in charge of the License Division had sat Sergeant-1 and LICHTENSTEIN down and banished LICHTENSTEIN from the License Division because of the money that LICHTENSTEIN was making selling gun licenses. An officer who processed applications for Sergeant-1 was interviewed and acknowledged his and Sergeant-1’s relationship with LICHTENSTEIN. When asked if LICHTENSTEIN gave them cash, the officer paused before saying that LICHTENSTEIN provided them “lunch money,” and when asked how much “lunch money,” the officer responded, “$100.”
The NYPD License Division receives approximately 5,000 applications for gun licenses a year. Most licenses approved by the NYPD License Division are for individuals to keep in their homes or businesses, but a small portion of the approved licenses are for individuals to carry guns for limited work reasons or to carry guns at all times based on a substantial showing of employment-based need. After receiving an application the NYPD License Division conducts an investigation of the applicant before electing to approve or disapprove the application. The investigation includes (i) a review of the applicant’s criminal history, including summonses, arrests, and convictions; (ii) a review of the applicant’s mental health history; (iii) a verification of the details of the application; (iv) an in-person interview of the applicant; and (v) an investigation into the business need for a license to carry a gun.
Certain findings, such as a prior felony conviction, result in the automatic disapproval of an applicant. Pursuant to New York State Law, the NYPD License Division has discretion to reject gun license applications for additional reasons, such as moral character, mental health issues, or substance abuse issues. On its website, the NYPD License Division indicates that it may reject applications if the investigation reveals a history of arrest, driving infractions, or domestic violence incidents, among other reasons. Typically, the processing, investigation, and approval or disapproval of an application takes several months and, for licenses to carry guns, at times in excess of one year.
Yesterday, detectives from IAB seized applicant files from the NYPD License Division associated with LICHTENSTEIN and/or Sergeant-1. A review of those files has begun and is ongoing. One such file appears to have been for an individual (“License Holder-1”) who, in 2013, was approved for and obtained a license to carry a firearm at all times. Prior to his application for a gun license, License Holder-1 had been arrested for forgery, received approximately 10 moving violations and three vehicle-related summonses, and had been the subject of at least four domestic violence complaints, including one in which he was accused of threatening to kill someone.
LICHTENSTEIN, 44, who now resides in Pomona, New York, has been charged with one count of bribery, which carries a maximum term of 10 years in prison, and one count of conspiracy, which carries a maximum term of five years in prison. The maximum potential sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.
Mr. Bharara praised the investigative work of the FBI and the NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau, and noted that the investigation is continuing.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Public Corruption Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Kan M. Nawaday, Russell Capone, and Martin S. Bell are in charge of the prosecution.
The charges contained in the Complaint are merely accusations and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
As the introductory phrase signifies, the entirety of the text of the Complaint and the description of the Complaint set forth herein constitute only allegations, and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.
Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of New York
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