For years in New York City, it's been customary for police officers to hand out "courtesy cards" to family and friends, but an I-Team investigation has found some of these cards are being sold to strangers on the Internet.
Some who hold the cards -- wallet-sized pieces of plastic emblazoned with the logos and names of various labor unions representing NYPD personnel -- believe that flashing the card could help them win leniency from police during traffic stops for minor infractions.
Favoritism from police was a supposed selling point when NBC New York's I-Team recorded video of a sales pitch from a civilian middleman who brought an assortment of union cards on a South Brooklyn street corner.
The I-Team set up the undercover sale after discovering a website called Gifts 4 Kings maintained by Lester Magliano, a man who claimed to sell the cards on behalf of retired detectives and sergeants.
Magliano agreed to meet at a gas station near his home. It was there he was caught on hidden camera attempting to sell the courtesy cards.
“You see? It says PBA,” said Magliano, as he showed a card from the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.
“I get them from a detective. I get them from sergeants,” said Magliano. He said he sells the cards for a profit, then gives the money back to the retired police officers who gave him the cards.
His most expensive item was a Sergeants Benevolent Association card sold in tandem with a miniature badge and black case etched with the NYPD logo, along with the words ”family member.” It was being offered for $200.
But does $200 get you out of a ticket if you're pulled over? It depends on who you ask.
Ed Mullins, president of the SBA, told the I-Team the cards do not buy any favoritism from police.
“It’s not a guarantee to get you out of a traffic ticket, and for the prices they’re charging for these cards on the Internet, it’s really a rip-off,” said Mullins. “You’re being robbed.”
Mullins said the cards are simply a courtesy, and dozens of people in New York City who don’t have union cards get out of tickets every day simply by being courteous and respectful to the officers who pull them over.
But Seth Borsuk, a pharmaceutical sales representative from Long Island, believes his chances of wiggling out of a recent seat belt summons would have been vastly improved had he owned a courtesy card.
“Colleagues of mine, who are in the car every day, have these cards. They’ve been relieved of multiple infractions,” said Borsuk. “Unfortunately, I have no connection to law enforcement so I have no chance of getting the cards."
In Magliano’s sales pitch, he said he has personally used union cards to get out of traffic tickets on multiple occasions.
He also explained how a person should show the card or mini badge to a police officer while simultaneously retrieving her or his driver’s license.
“They’re going to ask ‘Who do you know on the job?’” said Magliano. “Make up any name, and they’ll just say ‘Drive carefully’ or ‘Put your seatbelt on.’”
After the sales pitch, the I-Team bought one sergeant's union card and one detective's union card from Magliano. After the I-Team revealed to Magliano that his sales pitch was caught on hidden camera, Magliano changed his story, insisting he was selling the cards for collectors' purposes only.
The I-Team presented the newly purchased SBA card to Ed Mullins, who said he would seek to put Lester Magliano out of business.
"After we do this interview, I’m going to be speaking with our attorneys and we’ll begin an investigation,” Mullins said.
The Detectives Endowment Association had no official comment.