Just weeks ago, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly touted the 141 arrests netted in an NYPD sting targeting criminals buying and selling stolen iPhones and iPads. Now one defendant is claiming his arrest was unfair.
The suspects in Operation Take Back were mostly nabbed by undercover cops posing as thieves who offered the pricey electronics at wild discounts.
Robert Tester, 19, of Dyker Heights, was one defendant approached in the sting. “This guy came out of nowhere," said Tester. "He said he had an iPhone."
Tester, a freshman at Borough of Manhattan Community College, said he was leaving a study session at the library when the undercover officer, unsolicited, started pressuring him to buy the iPhone.
The teen said the officer tried to persuade him to make an offer for the smartphone with a hard-luck story.
“He said he had a daughter and he said he had to feed her for Christmas,” Tester said.
Ultimately, Tester admitted, he made an offer of $20 for the iPhone. He was charged with receiving stolen property.
Tester’s family says the street-level purchase was essentially an act of charity.
“The person said to him, ‘My daughter, my family is struggling. I’m out of work,’ and my son did everything we taught him to do,” said Robert Tester, Jr., the defendant’s father.
The NYPD is standing by the arrest.
“The officer told the suspect that he had stolen the iPhone from an Apple store in Manhattan and wanted $50 for it,” said Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne. "The suspect offered $20, the officer agreed, and the exchange was made."
After hearing of the undercover arrest, City Councilman Vincent Gentile wrote a letter to Kelly requesting a full review of Operation Take Back.
“Trying to root out merchants who are known dealers in stolen electronics is one matter; luring unsuspecting and otherwise law-abiding teenagers to ‘buy’ goods from undercover officers is another matter entirely,” Gentile wrote.
Tester is now considering a civil counter-suit against the NYPD. His lawyer accused the undercover officer of trying to pad arrest statistics.
“You’re really going out and manufacturing crimes where there weren’t any otherwise,” said defense attorney Matthew Galluzzo. "But these are law-abiding people."