What to Know
49 people, including an ex-vice detective and seven active-duty NYPD members, were indicted in a sweeping prostitution and gambling bust
Prosecutors allege a retired detective masterminded the multi-million-dollar scheme with the help of his wife
A spokesman for the NYPD said the arrests send a message "there is no place in the NYPD for criminal or unethical behavior"
A retired Vice detective and his wife allegedly were the masterminds behind an elaborate prostitution and gambling ring that had brothels in three counties and led to the indictments of more than four dozen people, including seven active-duty NYPD officers, the Queens district attorney's office said Thursday.
Ex-NYPD detective Ludwig Paz, of Queens, allegedly helmed the sweeping enterprise along with his wife, Arelis Peralta, who prosecutors say helped operate brothels in Queens, Brooklyn and Nassau counties and gambling rooms in beauty salons and other businesses throughout the city.
Seven active members of the NYPD, including detectives and a pair of sibling sergeants, are also named in the indictment for alleged various roles in the operation. Those include 43-year-old Brooklyn South Vice Detective Rene Samaniego, who allegedly helped Paz run both the gambling and prostitution operations and "outed" undercover detectives as they entered the brothels.
Sgt. Carlos Cruz, 41, and detective Giovanny Rojas Acosta, 40, are accused of giving Paz information on law enforcement activities related to prostitution to help him avoid detection. They, along with Paz, all face charges of enterprise corruption, according to the indictment.
Two brothers who are NYPD sergeants -- Cliff Nieves, 37, and Steven Nieves, 32 -- are accused of promoting prostitution and operating an invite-only "pop-up brothel" within another established brothel, the indictment says. Another cop, Giancarlo Raspanti, allegedly gave Paz confidential police information in exchange for discounted sex at a brothel. And yet another sergeant, Louis Failla, allegedly helped Paz get out of a jam following a brothel ride.
Prosecutors say a tip from an officer about gambling and prostitution issues within the department to the NYPD's Internal Affairs Bureau in 2015 launched the investigation. Queens District Attorney Richard Brown says over the course of the probe, investigators used wiretaps and surveillance, among other techniques, to map out the flow and players in the complicated enterprise.
At the top of that flow chart, Brown said, was Paz, who allegedly ran or helped run the day-to-day operations at seven of eight brothels. He also allegedly used his knowledge of NYPD Vice procedures to set up protocols for new prostitution clients. Knowing that detectives could not expose their genitals during their interactions with prostitutes, Paz allegedly required the new clients to undress and allow themselves to be fondled to pass the brothel’s security screening. The retired detective also allegedly used his contacts within the NYPD to thwart raids by paying for confidential police information, the indictment charges.
The brothels used online ads to attract customers and after passing the screenings, clients would be allowed to choose a prostitute and paid anywhere from $40 for 15 minutes of sexual activity up to $160 for a full hour, according to the indictment. And between August 2016 and September 2017, prosecutors say the prostitution ring took in more than $2 million.
At the same time, Brown said Paz and his wife allegedly profited from several illegal lottery businesses set up at a deli and beauty salon in Queens.
The bust also snared nearly three dozen civilians on various charges. The seven active NYPD members all pleaded not guilty at their arraignments Thursday; all of their attorneys declined comment. Paz's arraignment was still pending Thursday afternoon, and court officers said the rest of the dozens of arraignments would likely take place through the day Thursday into Friday.
Officials for the PBA, DEA and SBA unions representing officers, detectives and sergeants, did not have immediate comment on the arrests.
NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill praised the tipster who came forward and blasted the officers in a statement Thursday afternoon, saying, "Whenever officers betray trust by engaging in criminal behavior, they tarnish the shields they wear. The New Yorkers we serve will never tolerate this, and neither will this police department."
Brown echoed O'Neill's sentiment.
"The vast majority of NYPD police officers are honest and dedicated to enforcing and upholding the law. However, today’s indictments of one former detective and seven current police officers of the NYPD dishonor the badge," Brown said. "The main culprit in this case - a retired detective - allegedly used his knowledge of the inner workings of the New York City Police Department to run a string of brothels in Queens, Brooklyn and Hempstead, Long Island. His alleged illegal enterprise also included using established lotteries to run illegal gambling in beauty salons and other locations in two boroughs. These operations stop today."