Shortly after sunrise on March 1, former Nassau County Police Second Deputy Commissioner William Flanagan, former Deputy Chief Inspector John Hunter and retired Detective Sergeant Al Sharpe surrendered, heads down, in silence, to the Nassau District Attorney’s office.
Reporters and camera crews clamored to get a shot as they turned themselves in to face charges they had squashed a criminal investigation into the son of a wealthy police foundation donor. Some had staked out the building’s two entrances in the drizzling rain for hours to get a peek.
Handcuffed, the former law enforcement officials were soon led past flashing bulbs, shouts and video cameras into tinted-out black Suburbans, whisked to their longtime home at police headquarters for processing, and before long, seated before Nassau Court Judge John Kase in a packed courtroom. All pled not guilty. All face potential jail or prison time.
For Flanagan, 54, of Islip, the spectacle marked the first day of his retirement. With nearly three decades on the job, the third-highest ranking police official in Nassau had abruptly resigned less than 24 hours earlier—just nine days short of his scheduled departure. So had Hunter.
“I’ve been a police officer in Nassau County for 29 years,” said Flanagan outside the courtroom, flanked by his attorney Bruce Barket, following his indictment. ”I committed no criminal acts here. I’m confident at a trial I’ll be vindicated and exonerated.”
For the NCPD, the trio’s lengthy indictments—of which Flanagan holds the top charge, receiving reward for official misconduct, a felony—were just the latest bombshells in what’s been an unprecedented proceeding. Last year, the department became the subject of national scrutiny when its police crime laboratory became the only one in the country to be put on probation for a second time and then shuttered—a scandal that required Gov. Andrew Cuomo to appoint the state Inspector General’s Office to investigate. Earlier this week, the Nassau Legislature approved a historic plan by County Executive Ed Mangano to shutter half its precincts and shed more than 100 positions within the department.
As earth-shaking as the recent indictments are, however, the scandal once again involves the 87-year-old department’s top brass, not its rank-and-file members.
A March 31, 2011, Long Island Press cover story titled “Membership Has Its Privileges: Is NCPD Selling Preferential Treatment” sparked an investigation by the Nassau District Attorney’s Office, which led to the indictments, according to its own press release announcing the charges.
The article—the first of a five-part investigative series last year into the NCPD and its dealings with the nonprofit Nassau County Police Department Foundation, of which former Nassau Police Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey was the brainchild—detailed a May 2009 break-in at Bellmore’s John F. Kennedy High School, in which more than $3,000 worth of electronic equipment was stolen, and the thwarting of its subsequent police investigation. The latter was stalled despite the school principal’s desire for prosecution.
[Part I: “Membership Has Its Privileges” Part II: “The NCPD Refuses to Show Us the Money” Part III: “What A Mess: New Revelations In Nassau County Police Crime Lab Scandal” Part IV: “Press Article Sparks Investigation, Arrest” Part V: “Cop Out: An Inside Look at the War Between the County and the Cops”]
The alleged perpetrator, Zachary Parker, 20, of Merrick, whose name was kept out of the initial Press article but included in an Oct. 20 follow-up titled “Press Article Sparks Investigation, Arrest,” is the son of Gary Parker, an associate and donor of the foundation, the Press reported. The group has raised more than $1.6 million to date for a new police academy.
The March 31 article reported how Foundation members were given police shields and police identification, and detailed a March 5, 2010, memo sent out to all commands of the department informing personnel of the group’s “benevolent business executives” and instructing that should officers “come into contact with any of these individuals”…“in the course of your police work,” a 24/seven hotline was available for their verification.
After the Press expose, Zachary Parker was indicted by a grand jury last October on three felony counts related to the incident and charged with burglary, grand larceny and criminal possession of stolen property following an investigation by the Nassau County District Attorney. Then-Commissioner Mulvey retired from office the day after the Press’ March 31 story.
In addition to Flanagan’s felony count, all three are charged with official misconduct and conspiracy. Flanagan faces up to four years in prison, Sharpe faces up to two years, and Hunter faces up to a year in jail.
“Commissioner Flanagan committed no crime, he did nothing improper, he was acting in the course of his police responsibilities and simply went about that,” Barket told reporters outside the courtroom March 1. “To have his 29-year career come down to this indictment for this petty theft is nothing short of outrageous.”
Hunter and Sharpe, through attorneys William Petrillo and Anthony Grandinette, respectively, also maintained their innocence.
The district attorney’s indictment says differently, documenting a long paper trail of e-mails, “gift cards,” the wining and dining of Hunter, Flanagan and other Nassau police brass with “lunches and dinners”—totaling more than $17,000, says a source close to the investigation—from Parker, and failed attempts to get the school principal to sign a withdrawal of prosecution.
Flanagan called the gift cards, which totaled several hundred dollars, says a source close to the investigation, “[o]ver the top” in a Sept. 10, 2009, e-mail included in the indictment. In an e-mail the day before, he replied “de nada family” after informing Parker that some of the stolen property had been returned to the school.
Parker donated $110,000 to the Foundation, according to 2010 tax filings with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. His son Zachary’s license had been checked by law enforcement more than 20 times for traffic violations but had never received a ticket, says a source close to the investigation. Besides the Bellmore burglary, he also faces drug charges in Nassau and Broward County, Fla.
A law enforcement source close to that investigation tells the Press that when arrested, Parker displayed two official-looking badges and told police he was an EMT. He also insisted his father was connected with the police.
Hunter “was instrumental” in getting the younger Parker a civilian job within the police department, according to the indictment. Hunter intervened when the case was referred to the Internal Affairs Unit when Parker was named as a suspect in the Bellmore burglary, it reads. As an NCPD employee, he would automatically be investigated by Internal Affairs, per police procedure.
Hunter, “who was not in this unit’s direct chain of command,” continues the indictment, “informed the commanding officer of the 7th Precinct Detective Squad that the felony investigation would be handled by the 7th Precinct Detective Squad and not by the Internal Affairs Unit.”
A spokesperson for the NCPD tells the Press that the police commissioner, who is briefed at least a couple of times a week about Internal Affairs investigations, would have had the ultimate authority to dismiss or move a case out of Internal Affairs.
“Our office would review any Internal Affairs investigation that contained an issue of criminality,” says Nassau District Attorney’s Office spokesman Chris Munzing.
A source close to the District Attorney’s probe tells the Press its investigation is ongoing.
With additional reporting by Rashed Mian