By Ana Borruto
A New York City police sergeant from Valley Stream was arrested for allegedly taking cash bribes, limo rides and liquor bottles in exchange for improperly expediting gun license applications, federal prosecutors said.
Sgt. David Villanueva, head of the NYPD’s Licensing Division, was charged Monday with conspiracy to commit bribery at Manhattan federal court. He was indicted along with Alex Lichtenstein, a Brooklyn-based gun expeditor.
“Gun licenses were issued to people who had no business having them,” Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, told reporters during a news conference. “The gun licensing process meant to safeguard the public was, of course, dangerously compromised.”
Prosecutors said Villanueva accepted over $1,000 worth of bribes and other gifts to expedite and approve more than 100 gun licenses for Lichtenstein’s clients, some of whom should have been rejected, from 2012 through this year.
Bharara also announced Monday that NYPD Officer Richard Ochetal previously pleaded guilty to accepting bribes in exchange for approving gun license applications with Villanueva. He completed first-level reviews of many of the applications and was instructed by Villanueva to approve them, authorities said. Some of the compensation Villanueva received from Lichtenstein was given to Ochetal, according to investigators.
During the review and approval process, Villanueva and Ochetal neglected required checks, which included criminal history checks, prosecutors said. Additionally, both officers approved applications for licenses to carry firearms that did not have business-related reasoning, authorities said. Approval for such licenses normally take months, even over a year to process, however the officers were able to complete them within weeks.
Bharara additionally announced a second indictment Monday that resulted in the arrest of three more NYPD officials on bribery charges in a separate, unrelated case. He thanked the FBI, IRS and NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau for their help in the investigations, which are continuing.
Villanueva faces up to 15 years in prison, if convicted.