A former NYPD officer took the stand on Tuesday shocking jurors with tales of bribery and corruption he and other officers demanded in return for giving out gun permits in the notoriously strict city of New York.
The New York Post reports David Villanueva, an ex-supervisor in the NYPD’s License Division, confessed that himself and other police — including officers Richard Ochetel, Robert Espinel, and Lt. Paul Dean — spent years collecting gifts including money, prostitutes, expensive watches, baseball memorabilia, and lavish vacations in exchange for supplying firearms permits.
Villanueva said he was taking bribes from people known as “gun expeditors” in exchange for pistol permits; whether or not the person should receive one.
He claims some of these expeditors may have connects to organized crime. One client cleared 100 gun permits and Villanueva says “none” should have been granted.
The testimony unfolded in federal court during a trial for John Chambers. Chambers is known as a gun lawyer for celebrities and allegedly tempted Villanueva with extravagant gifts including an $8,500 diamond watch and tickets to expensive Broadway shows to get his clients gun permits in the Big Apple.
People like Chambers are sought after in cities like NYC with tight gun control. People end up paying top dollar to skirt the law rather than go through a tedious process which creates opportunities for officers on the take to use approving gun permits as a side business.
Villanueva plead guilty and is now working with the feds to help unpack the shady process to a jury.
Ex-police sergeant Frank Soohoo pled guilty in 2016. Villanueva says Soohoo sent him and Ochetel on vacations to the Bahamas, Mexico, and Hawaii. Soohoo owned a gun store in Queens where he threw parties for the police with prostitutes occasionally on hand for good measure.
In return Soohoo got help getting gun permits and occasionally sought advice on assisting clients who were “federally barred” from legal ownership of a weapon.
Alex “Shaya” Lichtenstein is an expeditor who also pled guilty. Lichtenstein paid as much as $1000 per permit. According to Villanueva, Lichtenstein was cleared for 100 permits between 2012 and 2015. All of the permits had missing paperwork and shouldn’t have been approved.
Villanueva accepted dinners, clothes, watches and baseball memorabilia which included autographs of Alex Rodriguez and Mickey Mantle along with a signed baseball from Willie Randolph from Chambers.
An $8,500 watch was passed around the courtroom by prosecutors. Villanueva says Chambers gave him the gift for helping a client with a past record of multiple unreported domestic violence issues get cleared to own a gun.
Villanueva told the court the domestic abuser was able to retain two of his four weapons permits thanks to his shadowy assistance, which included a license for the man to have a firearm in his home.
Officers Dean and Espinel are waiting for their day in court and deny all charges of bribery. Ochetel chose to plead guilty.
Villanueva returns to the stand on Wednesday.
Earlier this month, DANGEROUS reported on New York’s impossible hurdles for normal citizens to obtain a handgun permit, focusing on the case of Clark Camp, a 29-year-old Hawaii native with no criminal record, who is now in prison for two years for bringing his legally-purchased handgun into the city limits.
Feature image: David Villanueva (left) and John Chambers, via The New York Post
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