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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of New York

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, March 16, 2017

FORMER NEIGHBORHOOD PATROL LEADER SENTENCED TO 32 MONTHS IN PRISON FOR BRIBING NYPD POLICE OFFICERS TO APPROVE AND EXPEDITE GUN LICENSES FOR CLIENTS

Joon H. Kim, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that ALEX LICHTENSTEIN, a/k/a “Shaya,” was sentenced in Manhattan federal court today to 32 months in prison for bribery and conspiracy to commit bribery in connection with his payment of tens of thousands of dollars in cash bribes to New York City Police Department (“NYPD”) officers in exchange for the officers’ approval and expediting of gun licenses for LICHTENSTEIN’s paying clients. LICHTENSTEIN, who previously pled guilty, was sentenced today by the United States District Judge Sidney H. Stein.

 

Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said: “By engaging in an egregious scheme to trade cash for gun licenses, Alex Lichtenstein and his co-defendants in the New York City Police Department corrupted the sensitive process of evaluating gun license applications in New York City. Today’s sentence shows that individuals who so brazenly abuse the public’s trust in law enforcement – whether they are the officers receiving bribes or the citizens paying them – will be held to account for their crimes.”

 

As alleged in the Superseding Indictment against LICHTENSTEIN and established in connection with LICHTENSTEIN’s sentencing proceedings:

 

LICHTENSTEIN, who previously served as a leader in the Shomrim, a neighborhood patrol in Borough Park, Brooklyn, started a business in 2013 expediting gun license applications for clients. In return for a fee ranging from $10,000 to $16,000 per application, LICHTENSTEIN purportedly assisted his clients in navigating the gun licensing process within the NYPD. However, rather than provide legitimate services for his exorbitant fees, LICHTENSTEIN instead bribed two officers in the NYPD’s Licensing Division to ensure success for nearly all of his clients’ applications. In particular, LICHTENSTEIN paid co-defendant Sergeant David Villanueva of the Licensing Division between hundreds of dollars and $1,000 per application, and Villanueva in turn provided some of the bribe money to co-defendant Richard Ochetal, another NYPD officer in the Licensing Division who participated in the approval of applications submitted by LICHTENSTEIN’s clients. In exchange for this cash, as well as other perks such as liquor and limousine rides, Villanueva and Ochetal approved the gun license applications sought by LICHTENSTEIN’s clients without conducting the requisite diligence on his clients. As a result, Villanueva and Ochetal approved gun licenses for individuals with criminal histories, including at least one with a previous felony conviction, histories of domestic violence, and other factors that would otherwise have resulted in rejections by the Police Department. Villanueva and Ochetal also approved licenses for individuals to carry concealed guns for business-related reasons, when in fact such individuals had no legitimate basis on which to claim the need for such licenses. In total, LICHTENSTEIN made at least between $150,000 and $250,000 from his clients, a portion of which he remitted to Villanueva and Ochetal as bribes.

 

In April 2016, after having been banned by the Licensing Division due to rumors regarding his significant fees, LICHTENSTEIN attempted to bribe another police officer to help him get his clients’ applications reviewed by the Licensing Division and approved. In a recorded conversation, LICHTENSTEIN offered the NYPD officer $6,000 per application in exchange for the officer’s assistance with the Licensing Division. Rather than accept LICHTENSTEIN’s proposal, the officer reported this contact to the Police Department, ultimately leading to LICHTENSTEIN’s arrest.

 

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In addition to the prison term, LICHTENSTEIN, 45, of Pomona, New York, was sentenced to three years of supervised release and was ordered to forfeit $230,000.

 

Mr. Kim praised the outstanding investigative work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New York City Police Department’s Internal Affairs Bureau.

 

The prosecution is being handled by the Office’s Public Corruption Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Russell Capone, Kan M. Nawaday, Lauren B. Schorr, and Martin Bell are in charge of the prosecution.

Press Release Number: 
17-085
Updated March 16, 2017