A former deputy commissioner and two other top Nassau County police officials surrendered Thursday to face allegations they pulled strings to drop a 2009 burglary investigation against the son of a wealthy department benefactor, prosecutors said.
Second Deputy Commissioner William Flanagan, who resigned Wednesday after a 29-year career, was accused of accepting hundreds of dollars in gift cards from the benefactor after the police investigation was dropped. Also arrested were Deputy Chief Inspector John Hunter and Detective Sgt. Alan Sharpe.
Hunter, a 35-year veteran, also retired Wednesday. Sharpe, who worked for the department for 27 years, retired in January.
All three entered not guilty pleas to official misconduct and conspiracy counts and were released without bail. Flanagan also was accused of receiving a reward for official misconduct for accepting the gift cards, prosecutors said.
The defendants' lawyers said all three had distinguished careers and would be vindicated at trial.
If convicted, Flanagan, 54, could be sentenced to four years in prison. Hunter faces one year in jail, and Sharpe could receive two years if convicted and sentenced to consecutive terms, according to District Attorney Kathleen Rice.
A police department spokesman declined to comment.
"These defendants violated their oath and the law when they prevented a suspect's arrest and took investigative direction from the suspect's father," Rice said.
The charges stem from an investigation following a story in the Long Island Press last March titled "Membership has its Privileges: Is NCPD selling preferential treatment to private citizens?"
A 2009 burglary investigation of more than $10,000 in electronics equipment stolen from John F. Kennedy High School in Bellmore led authorities to suspect a teenager named Zachary Parker, now 20. Parker's father, Gary, is a partner in a Manhattan accounting firm and former member of the Nassau County Police Department Foundation, a private-public partnership trying to raise $60 million to build a new police academy.
According to the indictment, the elder Parker had telephone and email discussions with police officials over several months negotiating the return of the stolen property to the school in exchange for no charges being filed against his son. Although police never charged the younger Parker with burglary, he was subsequently indicted by a grand jury on burglary and other charges after Rice's office took over the investigation.
That case is still pending; Parker has pleaded not guilty.
Robert Schalk, an attorney representing the Parker family, said it's not unusual for private citizens to "work something out" with police to avoid a criminal prosecution — a contention that the police officers' attorneys also made.
"It was worked out among the parties," Schalk said. "The Parkers did nothing to influence the outcome."
Flanagan's attorney, Bruce Barket — a former Nassau prosecutor — echoed similar sentiments.
"Not every crime ends up with a criminal charge or an arrest, just like not every person who speeds when they get pulled over end up with a ticket," he told reporters after the arraignment. "In this case, the attorneys for the school and the attorneys for Mr. Parker were trying to resolve this through restitution and a return of the property. It's a perfectly appropriate method to resolve this kind of dispute."
The indictment unsealed Thursday indicates that school officials refused to sign any document dropping charges against Parker. A spokeswoman for the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District said in a statement that officials "completed necessary forms to file charges against the perpetrator" and said it has cooperated with the district attorney's investigation.
Executive director Alexandra Nigolian issued a statement saying she appreciated that Rice's investigation found "no criminality on the part of the Nassau County Police Department Foundation."
The arrests come at a time when the police department is already contending with other issues.
Its crime lab was closed a year ago after a national accrediting agency said it failed to meet national standards. A follow-up investigation by the state inspector general found systemic problems that "went largely undetected, ignored, or were not properly addressed due to failures at all levels of the lab's management and oversight."
Evidence in hundreds of drug cases is being reviewed and many drunken driving convictions are being challenged on appeal.
The county is also wrestling with a proposal to close four of its eight precinct houses in a cost-cutting measure; a decision on that could come next week. Nassau police are among the highest paid in the country, averaging $150,000 in annual salary. Flanagan was earning $224,929 as a deputy commissioner as of Dec. 31, according to prosecutors.
County Executive Edward Mangano said in a statement Thursday that he anticipates the "judicial system will provide for a fair and impartial process for these three former employees."
The suspects' next court appearance is May 22.