NEW YORK - A Bronx officer at the center of an internal police investigation into ticket-fixing was found guilty by a jury on Monday of taking part in a series of criminal schemes to make money. The officer, Jose Ramos, 45, was convicted of attempted criminal possession of a controlled substance in the first degree, the most serious charge against him, as well as attempted robbery in the second degree and attempted grand larceny in the third degree. He was found not guilty of a fourth charge, attempted robbery in the first degree.
The verdict was the culmination of a nearly monthlong trial in State Supreme Court in the Bronx, in which prosecutors played extensive video and audio recordings of Officer Ramos plotting with a police informer in October and November 2009 to drive a van carrying heroin from the Bronx to Brooklyn for $10,000, and to steal money from a black-market electronics buyer and from the hotel room of an out-of-town drug dealer.
Officer Ramos, who did not testify at his trial, looked visibly upset as the verdict was announced in a largely empty courtroom after less than a day of deliberation by the jury. Officer Ramos, who has been held in jail, had previously been suspended from the Police Department.
Officer Ramos’s lawyer, Matthew J. Kluger, patted him on the back in support. Afterward, outside the courtroom, Mr. Kluger said they would wait to hear the sentence before deciding whether to appeal. “Mr. Ramos is disappointed with the narcotics charge,” he said, “but we’ll regroup and figure out where to go from here.”
Officer Ramos is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 1 by Justice Michael A. Gross. He faces eight to 20 years in prison on the narcotics charge.
The trial was just the beginning of a long court battle for Officer Ramos, the son of a police officer; he had been on the job for 17 years before his arrest. He faces additional charges in five other indictments, the most serious of which stem from an accusation in 2012 that he conspired with his wife to use money from his police pension to try to have a witness against him murdered.
It was the investigation into Officer Ramos that exposed a routine practice among police officers to make traffic and parking tickets disappear for friends and relatives. The investigation eventually led to more than two dozen wiretaps and the indictments of 16 police officers, including Officer Ramos. Earlier this month, Lt. Jennara Cobb was the first officer to be tried. She was convicted by a judge of divulging information about the investigation in what prosecutors said was an effort to warn other officers.
The investigation of Officer Ramos started with a tip in December 2008 that marijuana was being sold by a man who managed two barber shops owned by Officer Ramos in the 40th Precinct, in the South Bronx. The man, Lee King, also lived in Officer Ramos’s apartment, drove his car and used his police-issued placard, prosecutors said.
The police started listening to Mr. King’s cellphone, and later, to Officer Ramos’s two cellphones. By fall 2009, they had enlisted an informer, Harry Mingo, who conspired with Officer Ramos to steal money from an out-of-town drug dealer and an electronics buyer, both of whom were in fact undercover police officers. They also met with a Miami drug dealer (also an undercover police officer), and later Officer Ramos drove a van for the supposed drug dealer from the Bronx to Brooklyn, prosecutors said.
During the trial, Mr. Kluger repeatedly sought to discredit Mr. Mingo and to portray Officer Ramos to the jury as a police officer who had made mistakes but had never committed a crime. Mr. Kluger argued that Officer Ramos was repeatedly caught up in plots devised by internal police investigators and that he did not know that the van he drove was supposedly carrying narcotics.
But Omer Wiczyk, the prosecutor, countered that there was simply overwhelming evidence against Officer Ramos that showed, time and again, that he had been all too willing to illegally profit from his badge and connections. “That man is guilty,” Mr. Wiczyk told the jury on Friday. “The law applies to everyone equally. Apply it here. Convict him.”
The Bronx district attorney, Robert T. Johnson, said in a statement, “The crimes for which Jose Ramos has been convicted show that he clearly shunted to the side the duty he has to the people of New York City and began to operate solely for his personal benefit.”
By Winnie Hu - The New York Times/Oct. 26, 2014
Photo: By Gregg Vigliotti