Gerard A. Brave
Assistant District Attorney
Perhaps one of the most difficult and time-consuming areas of criminal investigation and prosecution is organized criminal activity. Witnesses are difficult to rely upon because those operating within organized crime circles are often bound by loyalty and fear of reprisal; those outside are often unable to provide a complete picture of criminal activity and also fear retaliation if their cooperation with law enforcement is revealed. The highest levels of organized crime enterprises are usually insulated from those who carry out their orders by committing discrete criminal acts. It is exceptionally difficult for law enforcement to interdict and successfully prosecute the leaders of these groups.
Investigations of organized crime, therefore, often entail complex efforts, such as the infiltration of these groups, the use of confidential informants, and the use of intensive surveillance, including court-ordered wiretaps and other electronic eavesdropping. Such investigations are expensive, often involving considerable witness protection and relocation costs. A solid investigation can take years to complete, as sources are developed, leads are followed and evidence is painstakingly gathered.
The Bureau focuses its attention on many different crimes, including more traditional rackets such as gambling and loansharking, as well as other sophisticated criminal activities like stock fraud, labor racketeering, insurance frauds, and auto crime. The Bureau has been particularly aggressive in prosecuting higher-level organized criminals under the Organized Crime Control Act (OCCA), the New York State counterpart of the federal Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute, which permits us to deal with these groups on an enterprise-wide basis rather than pursue isolated instances of criminal conduct. Using this law also provides for potentially higher sentences to be imposed. For example, a person involved in a stolen automobile enterprise who stole an automobile worth $25,000 would normally be prosecuted for a Class D felony and could receive a sentence as high as seven years, or as low as a probationary sentence. If the same defendant was prosecuted under OCCA, which is Class B Felony, he or she would face a mandatory jail term of up to 25 years.
The Bureau has been successful in establishing partnerships with numerous law enforcement agencies, working closely with the New York City Police Department Detective Squad and an investigative unit of the New York State Police, both assigned to the District Attorney’s Office, as well as the office’s own Detective Investigators, who are assigned to the Bureau. Partnerships have also been successfully forged with the NYPD’s Organized Crime Investigations Division, Auto Crime Division, Major Case Squad, Vice Enforcement Division, and with the United States Postal Service, Secret Service, FBI, DEA, Port Authority Police Department, and Nassau County Police Department. In addition, we have worked successfully with other local and federal prosecutor’s offices, including all of the District Attorney’s Offices in the New York City Metropolitan area, the Office of the United States Attorney for the Eastern and Southern Districts of New York, and the New York State Organized Crime Task Force. These alliances serve to improve coordination and avoid duplication of effort.
AUTO CRIME UNIT
One of the areas of primary focus for the Organized Crime and Rackets Bureau has been auto theft-related crime. Queens residents own large numbers of quality cars; the County has a large network of highways and bridges that make it easy to transport stolen vehicles; and, it has a large concentration of junkyards near areas ideal for auto stripping. These factors contribute to the County’s acute auto theft problem. The attention paid to this problem since District Attorney Brown took office has reduced by more than 70% in the past eight years the number of cars stolen annually in Queens County.
The Organized Crime and Rackets Bureau has targeted organized crime’s control of vehicle theft and illegal auto dismantling in New York City. The Bureau, working closely with other law enforcement agencies, has conducted some very significant auto theft investigations involving the use of undercover operatives and court-ordered electronic surveillance, resulting in the arrest and prosecution of organized crime-controlled auto thieves and illegal vehicle dismantlers. In addition, the Bureau regularly obtains search warrants authorizing raids on chop shops which yield thousands of dollars worth of stolen property.
A recent example was Operation Tin Man, a 13 month undercover operation that successfully infiltrated the illegal workings of an auto theft, auto dismantling and insurance fraud ring. The investigation centered on an undercover garage which the NYPD leased out to the suspects. All told, 44 vehicles worth in excess of $750,000 were brought in to be stripped, including 35 vehicles that were falsely reported stolen by their owners. The remaining vehicles came from an auto theft ring. This investigation resulted in the arrest of 32 individuals, including those owners who falsely claimed that their vehicles had been stolen.
Another example was Operation Stadium Scrap, a 12 month investigation into auto-related crimes in the Willets Point section of Queens. This investigation resulted in the arrest of a member of the Gambino Organized Crime family and three of his associates. They were charged with operating a racketeering enterprise that dominated the lucrative scrap metal industry in Willets Point by extortion, arson, and threats directed at competitors - including a rival scrap yard, Stadium Scrap, operated by undercover officers assigned to the NYPD’s Auto Crime Division.
The office also has focused attention on the almost 2000 auto crime-related arrests each year to ensure that cases are handled aggressively and that maximum jail sentences are obtained. Because auto crimes do not usually involve violence, it often has been difficult to obtain stiff sentences. To address this problem, we review every auto crime arrest with an eye toward enhancing the cases and securing jail sentences for car thieves. We believe that this technique, combined with our investigative efforts, will continue to reduce auto theft in Queens.
AIRPORT INVESTIGATIONS UNIT
The Airport Investigations Unit is an integral part of the Organized Crime and Rackets Bureau. It handles the investigation and prosecution of air cargo theft at John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports. Cargo theft at JFK is a particular concern because of the large volume of air freight handled at the airport each year. Last year approximately 1.8 million tons of air cargo valued at approximately $120 billion were shipped through JFK Airport, the forth largest amount in the nation and fifth in the world (behind airports in Tokyo, Memphis, Miami and Los Angeles).
The losses suffered as a result of the theft of air freight are passed along by shippers and the air freight industry directly to the consuming public, and it is the consumer who ends up footing the bill. Concerned that New York airports remain competitive, District Attorney Brown has committed a sizable portion of resources to investigating and prosecuting organized criminal activities at the airports.
One example was Operation Kat-Net (Kennedy Airport Theft Network), which resulted in the arrest of over 80 individuals involved in thefts from air cargo facilities located at and around JFK Airport. The arrests were the culmination of a three-year investigation which recovered in excess of $14,000,000 worth of stolen goods. This investigation was conducted jointly with the FBI, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, the NY/NJ Port Authority, and the New York State Police. It employed the use of undercover agents and the execution of federal and state court-authorized eavesdropping warrants. The sting operation was based in a warehouse near JFK and equipped agents with the ability to recover millions of dollars worth of stolen property. The property which was stolen and recovered included avionics parts, designer clothing, luxury automobiles, jewelry, perfumes, firearms, computer equipment, camcorders and cellular telephones.
Another such example was Operation Rainforest, a joint investigation with the FBI, the NY/NJ Port Authority, NYPD, and the New York State Police. It resulted in the arrest of more than 50 individuals and the recovery of more than $5,000,000 worth of stolen goods.