A member of a Boro Park private “safety patrol” pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court Thursday to paying bribes to NYPD officers in return for expedited approval of firearms licenses in one of the scandals stemming from probes of police and political corruption in New York City.
“I had good and friendly relationships with New York City police officers,” said Alex Lichtenstein, 45, of upstate Pomona. “ . . . I gave police officers in the Licensing Division things of value including money, knowing that by giving them these things the officers would do me favors, including expediting gun license applications that I submitted for other people.”
Lichtenstein, who had to pause to keep his composure as he pleaded guilty in front of about 20 supporters, faces up to 20 years in prison on two bribery-related charges. Federal guidelines call for him to receive 57 to 71 months in prison when he is sentenced on March 16. Lichtenstein told reporters outside court that he wasn’t cooperating.
Prosecutors have accused NYPD Sgt. David Villanueva, 42, of Valley Stream, with receiving payoffs as part of the scheme. Villanueva has pleaded not guilty. His lawyer did not comment on Lichtenstein’s plea. An officer who worked under Villanueva, Richard Ochetal, has pleaded guilty and is cooperating in the case.
“This type of corruption not only undermines public confidence in law enforcement, but it undermines public safety,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement after the plea. “And it cannot be tolerated.”
Lichtenstein allegedly offered an undercover officer $6,000 for each gun license he could get for the safety patrol, called the Shomrin, and bragged that he had obtained 150 licenses through his connections at the NYPD.
His indictment said members of the Shomrin — described as a “volunteer, ostensibly unarmed Orthodox Jewish patrol society” — paid him $18,000 per license to help. Prosecutors said Lichtenstein got one license for a person who was the subject of four domestic violence complaints.
In addition to cash bribes, Lichtenstein also allegedly gave Villanueva perks that included liquor and limousine rides in return for his help. In the plea, Lichtenstein said on one occasion he offered a $6,000 bribe, and on the other provided items of a value in excess of $5,000.
As part of his plea deal, Lichtenstein agreed to forfeit $250,000.