Three Current and Former NYPD Police Officers Charged with Towing Company Bribery Scheme
Retired Officer also Charged with Drug Trafficking and Firearm Offenses
(STL.News) A nine-count indictment was unsealed today in federal court in Brooklyn charging Heather Busch, Robert Hassett, and Robert Smith with five counts of using interstate facilities to commit bribery and two counts of conspiracy to violate the Travel Act. Smith is also charged with attempting to transport at least one kilogram of heroin and possessing a firearm during the commission of that crime. During the relevant period, Smith, Busch, and Hassett were New York City Police Department (“NYPD”) police officers assigned to the 105th Precinct in Queens. Smith retired from the NYPD in March 2020.
The defendants were arrested this morning and will be arraigned this afternoon before United States Chief Magistrate Judge Cheryl L. Pollak.
Mark J. Lesko, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, William F. Sweeney, Jr. Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI), and Dermot F. Shea, Commissioner, NYPD, announced the charges.
“As alleged, the defendants shamelessly violated their oaths of office and the public trust by trading their badges for cash payments,” stated Acting United States Attorney Lesko. “This Office will vigorously pursue corrupt public servants like these defendants, who exploited their positions as police officers for personal gain.” Mr. Lesko expressed his grateful appreciation to Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation for their assistance with the case.
“Behavior like the type alleged today is a disgrace. It erodes public trust in law enforcement and tarnishes the reputations of the many thousands of officers who honorably serve our communities on a daily basis. The FBI and NYPD stand together on this – Our shared oath is to uphold the law and protect the public. Nobody is above the law, and we will not tolerate illegal behavior, especially among the ranks of sworn law enforcement officers,” stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Sweeney.
“There is zero tolerance in the NYPD for corruption of any kind. Wherever it is alleged, our NYPD investigators, with our partners in the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York, work tirelessly to ensure it is punished to the fullest extent of the law,” stated NYPD Commissioner Shea.
The Tow Truck Scheme
Beginning in September 2016, NYPD Officers Smith and Hassett responded to automobile accidents by allegedly directing the damaged vehicles to a licensed tow trucking and automobile repair business (the “Business”) operated by an individual (the “Individual”), instead of using the NYPD’s Directed Accident Response Program (“DARP”), which requires NYPD officers to identify an appropriate licensed tow trucking business to respond to the scene of the automobile accident and remove the damaged vehicles from the scene. To ensure that no particular business receives favored treatment, NYPD officers are required to utilize a computer system that randomly selects a licensed tow trucking business. Smith and Hassett allegedly bypassed DARP and directed damaged vehicles directly to the Business in exchange for thousands of dollars in cash bribe payments. Smith and Hassett continued to participate in the scheme until at least June 2017, when they temporarily suspended their participation.
In November 2019, Smith resumed his participation in the scheme and continued to steer vehicles damaged in automobile accidents to the Business in exchange for cash. Beginning in January 2020, Smith discussed his plan to recruit Busch to participate in the scheme in advance of his retirement from the NYPD. In March 2020, Busch, at Smith’s invitation, met with Smith and the Individual and Busch agreed to participate in the scheme. Thereafter, Busch began steering vehicles damaged in automobile accidents to the Business in exchange for cash bribe payments, in lieu of utilizing DARP as required.
The Victim Database Scheme
Beginning in January 2020, Smith and Hassett obtained the names and identifying information of recent automobile accident victims from NYPD databases and provided that information to the Individual in exchange for cash. Smith and Hassett understood that the Individual would sell that information to physical therapy businesses and personal injury attorneys so that they could seek to solicit the automobile accident victims as customers.
On numerous occasions, Hassett accessed NYPD databases in violation of NYPD regulations for the purpose of obtaining the names and identifying information of victims of recent automobile accidents. Hassett then arranged for that information to be delivered to the Individual, sometimes through Smith. Upon receipt of that information, the Individual made payments in cash to Smith who, in turn, redistributed a portion of those payments to Hassett. In total, between January 2020 and March 2020, Smith and Hassett sold the names and identifying information of more than 100 victims to the Individual, in exchange for more than $7,000 in cash.
The Armed Drug Trafficking Scheme
Beginning in January 2020, Smith sought opportunities from the Individual to transport illegal narcotics, in exchange for payment, upon his retirement from the NYPD. In June 2020, Smith met with two individuals to discuss his interest in participating in a scheme to traffic drugs and told them he could carry a firearm and his retired NYPD identification while he was transporting the drugs. In July 2020, Smith met with an individual in Brooklyn and accepted a bag containing what Smith understood to be a kilogram of heroin. Smith then transported the bag to a location in Queens where he delivered it to another individual. Smith received a payment of approximately $1,200 in cash for his participation in the scheme.
The charges in the indictment are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. If convicted, Smith faces up to life imprisonment on the drug trafficking charge, up to 5 years’ imprisonment on each bribery count and a mandatory consecutive sentence of five years to life imprisonment on the firearm charge. Hassett and Busch face up to five years’ imprisonment on each bribery count, and the defendants each face up to five years’ imprisonment on the conspiracy to violate the Travel Act counts.
The government’s case is being handled by the Office’s Public Integrity Section. Assistant United States Attorneys Ryan C. Harris and Nicholas J. Moscow are in charge of the prosecution.
Massapequa, New York
Farmingville, New York
Plainview, New York
E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 21-CR-254 (RPK)