The member of a Brooklyn community watch who was caught on wiretap bragging he used his connections in the NYPD to obtain more than 150 gun licenses for people who wouldn't otherwise qualify for them has pleaded guilty to bribery.
Alex "Shaya" Lichtenstein, 44, faces up to 10 years in a federal prison for his role in a scheme that allegedly involved two other members of the NYPD's licensing division, one of whom has also pleaded guilty to his role in the case.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said that Lichtenstein, a member of a Shomrim patrol in Borough Park, admitted to being a gun "expediter."
This type of corruption not only undermines public confidence in law enforcement, but it undermines public safety," Bharara said. "And it cannot be tolerated."
Lichtenstein conspired with at least three members of the NYPD's license division and others from 2013 through February to pay bribes to obtain gun permits. He said his customers needed his services "because the License Division would otherwise reject applications 'for the biggest stupidity,' such as a history of moving violations," the court papers said.
He bragged about connections with Officer Richard Ochetal and Sgt. David Villanueva, but when he tried to bribe another sergeant there, the sergeant informed internal affairs and caught Lichtenstein on a wire, officials said. On the wiretap, Lichtenstein said he paid about $6,000 for the licenses. At least two officers said they received "lunch money" in exchange for helping him, according to the complaint.
The mission of the Shomrin includes stopping criminal activity and locating missing people. In many neighborhoods, its members are the first call - not law enforcement. The group has about 150 members who are all required to volunteer at least one night a month. Dispatchers take hotline calls and send out patrols. Volunteers pay for their own gas. Expenses like office rent and two-way radios are funded by donations with some support from local elected officials.
Villanueva is currently facing corruption charges, while Ochetal pleaded guilty to accepting bribes and is cooperating with a government investigation.
Lichtenstein's arrest came amid a federal probe into whether police officials accepted gifts in exchange for favors. Federal agents interviewed at least 20 officers on whether they accepted gifts in exchange for favors from two businessmen who gave money to Mayor Bill de Blasio's 2008 mayoral campaign and others.