Three NYPD officers from Long Island were charged for their alleged roles in a towing company bribery scheme as well as drug trafficking, prosecutors announced Tuesday.
34-year-old Heather Busch, of Massapequa, 36-year-old Robert Hassett, of Farmingville, and 44-year-old Robert Smith, of Plainview, were arrested on May 11 and charged with five counts of using interstate facilities to commit bribery and two counts of conspiracy to violate the Travel Act. Smith is also charged with attempting to transport at least one kilogram of heroin and possessing a firearm during the commission of that crime.
During the period of the alleged crimes, all three defendants were NYPD officers assigned to the 105th Precinct in Queens. Smith retired from the NYPD in March 2020.
“As alleged, the defendants shamelessly violated their oaths of office and the public trust by trading their badges for cash payments,” stated Acting United States Attorney Mark J. Lesko. “This Office will vigorously pursue corrupt public servants like these defendants, who exploited their positions as police officers for personal gain.”
According to charges, starting in September 2016 NYPD Officers Smith and Hassett allegedly responded to automobile accidents by directing the damaged vehicles to a licensed tow trucking and automobile repair business operated by an individual instead of using the department’s Directed Accident Response Program (“DARP”). DARP requires all NYPD officers to identify an appropriate licensed tow trucking business to respond to the scene of the automobile accident and remove the damaged vehicles from the scene, and to ensure that no one particular business received favored treatment, officers are required to utilize a computer system that randomly selects a licensed tow trucking business.
Smith and Hassett allegedly bypassed DARP each time and directed damaged vehicles to one business in exchange for thousands of dollars in cash bribe payments. Smith and Hassett allegedly put the scheme on hold in June 2017 and Smith picked it back up in November 2019.
In January 2020, Smith allegedly discussed recruiting Busch into the plan in advance of his retirement. Busch allegedly met with Smith and the business owner in March 2020, at Smith’s invitation, and Busch agreed to take part in the scheme. Thereafter, Busch began steering vehicles damaged in automobile accidents to the one business in exchange for cash bribe payments, in lieu of utilizing DARP as required.
Starting in January 2020, Smith and Hassett allegedly obtained names and identifying information from NYPD databases of recent car accident victims and provided that information to the business owner for money. Smith and Hassett allegedly knew that the business owner would sell the information to physical therapy businesses and personal injury attorneys so that they could seek to solicit the automobile accident victims as customers.
On multiple occasions, Hassett allegedly accessed the NYPD databases, violating NYPD regulations, for the purpose of obtaining the names and identifying information of victims of recent automobile accidents. Hassett then allegedly arranged for the information to be delivered to the business owner, sometimes through Smith.
Once the information was in hand, the business owner allegedly made payments to Smith, who redistributed a portion of the payments to Hassett. Between January and March 2020, Smith and Hassett allegedly sold the names and identifying information of more than 100 victims in exchange for more than $7,000 in cash.
Smith also allegedly sought opportunities from the business owner to transport illegal narcotics for money in January 2020 upon his retirement from the NYPD. In June 2020, Smith allegedly met with two individuals to discuss his interest in participating in a scheme to traffic drugs and told them he could carry a firearm and his retired NYPD identification while he was transporting the drugs.
In July 2020, Smith allegedly met with an individual in Brooklyn and accepted a bag that contained what Smith believed was a kilogram of heroin. Smith then allegedly transported the bag to Queens and dropped it off with another individual. Smith allegedly received $1,200 in cash for his participation.
“Behavior like the type alleged today is a disgrace,” FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney said in a statement. “It erodes public trust in law enforcement and tarnishes the reputations of the many thousands of officers who honorably serve our communities on a daily basis.
“The FBI and NYPD stand together on this – our shared oath is to uphold the law and protect the public,” he added. “Nobody is above the law, and we will not tolerate illegal behavior, especially among the ranks of sworn law enforcement officers.”
“There is zero tolerance in the NYPD for corruption of any kind” stated NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea. “Wherever it is alleged, our NYPD investigators, with our partners in the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York, work tirelessly to ensure it is punished to the fullest extent of the law.”
If convicted, Smith faces up to life in prison for the drug trafficking charge, up to five years’ imprisonment on each bribery count, and a mandatory consecutive sentence of five years to life imprisonment on the firearm charge. Hassett and Busch face up to five years in prison on each bribery count, and the defendants each face up to five years’ imprisonment on the conspiracy to violate the Travel Act counts.
This story first appeared on amNY.com.