It was a sweeping and complex criminal enterprise: brothels in Brooklyn, where enough 15-minute sexual encounters added up to more than $2 million in profits in one 13-month period, and nail salons in Queens, where managers, runners and agents placed bets on legal lotteries in an old-school numbers racket.And the mastermind was a retired New…
It was a sweeping and complex criminal enterprise: brothels in Brooklyn, where enough 15-minute sexual encounters added up to more than $2 million in profits in one 13-month period, and nail salons in Queens, where managers, runners and agents placed bets on legal lotteries in an old-school numbers racket.
And the mastermind was a retired New York City police detective who recruitedat least seven police officersacting as foot soldiers, according to court documents charging the group on Thursday.
The accusations amount to one of the largest scandals to hit the New York Police Department in recent years, a throwback to corruption dating back to the 1950s, when a Brooklyn bookmaker enlisted officers as muscle for his $20-million-a-year operation.
In the new indictment, two brothers who are officers in the Police Department were even charged with holding a bachelor party in a brothel.
The man accused of being the group’s ringleader, Ludwig Paz, 51, used his knowledge of the workings of the Police Department as a former vice detective to his advantage, prosecutors charged.
He knew that undercover officers investigating prostitution are not allowed to expose their genitals during their interactions with suspects, and so he made a rule for new clients: “undress and allow themselves to be fondled to pass the brothel’s security screening,” the Queens district attorney’s office, which is prosecuting the officers and dozens of civilians, said.
In all, three sergeants, two detectives and two officers have been charged in the prostitution enterprise.
All seven officers pleaded not guilty in Queens on Thursday and were released on their own recognizance. Mr. Paz was expected to appear later Wednesday. The courtroom was full of the officers’ family members. Some wept.
“It’s bad,” said one senior commander, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation was continuing. Another said, “a clear mix of anger and embarrassment” was swirling through the uniformed ranks.
“That fellow cops would stoop so low, for so little and that they would betray the oath and the badge for nonsense,” the commander said.
Officers were accused of tipping off Mr. Paz to ongoing police investigations that could involve his brothels, prosecutors said. Others were accused of providing Mr. Paz information in exchange for discounted sex at a brothel. The investigation began after a tip from a police officer, and utilized wiretaps and surveillance.
The accused have collectively accumulated a stack of wrongful-arrest and excessive force complaints and lawsuits over the years.
In one lawsuit that was later settled, a woman accused a group of officers that included one of those arrested this week, Detective Rene Samaniego, with grabbing and punching her and doctoring paperwork to claim she had committed an assault.
In another lawsuit that was settled, Detective Samaniego was named as part of a team of officers that raided the Coney Island apartment of Wanda Torres and five relatives, including four children. They found a small amount of marijuana, but nonetheless took them all to the 60th Precinct. Drug possession charges stemming from that were dismissed.
Arrests for prostitution have declined in recent years in the city, but it remains a stubborn problem in parts of Queens and Brooklyn. Arrest rates for prostitution offenses — including patronizing, promoting, compelling, permitting, loitering and sex trafficking — are higher in the two boroughs than elsewhere in New York City.
The brothels in the case are on Jamaica, Liberty and Onderdonk Avenues in Queens; on Foster, Fourth and Gates Avenues and 42nd Street in Brooklyn and on Front Street in Hempstead, Long Island, prosecutors said.