Alex “Shaya” Lichtenstein, shown here leaving federal court in April, charged his customers as much as $18,000 a pop to help get firearms permits through his contacts at the NYPD. (Photo: Matt McDermott/NYPost)
A Brooklyn man who paid New York Police Department officials to get as many as 150 gun licenses expedited for his customers plead guilty to bribery charges in federal court on Thursday.
In April, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara announced that Alex “Shaya” Lichtenstein, 44, had been arrested on charges of bribery and conspiracy to commit bribery in connection with his efforts to pay as much as $6,000 cash apiece to obtain gun licenses through the New York Police Department’s License Division. Lichtenstein is a member of the ostensibly unarmed Shomrim patrol, a Jewish neighborhood watch group.
On Thursday, Lichtenstein, pled guilty to bribery and offering a bribe in front of U.S. District Judge Sidney H. Stein.
According to court documents, the fixer began paying bribes as far back as 2013 for notoriously hard to get NYC firearm licenses.
Starting in 2015, the neighborhood watch member would trek down to License Division offices at One Police Plaza in Manhattan typically twice a week to meet with his contacts there to help Shomrim members and others obtain permits. Then at some point, his contacts there “shut him out” forcing Lichtenstein to seek out other NYPD officials who subsequently spoke to him while under video and audio surveillance, leading to his indictment and arrest.
Investigators believe the Brooklyn man charged his clients as much as $18,000 per permit and helped not only expedite the process — which often takes as long as three years — but also to smooth over background checks for those with domestic violence complaints and criminal records which would typically get denied. In at least one case a permit was issued to an individual who was a prohibited from possessing firearms under federal law.
“As he admitted today, Alex Lichtenstein acted as a corrupt gun ‘expediter,’ bribing police officers to obtain gun licenses, offering thousands of dollars per license,” noted Bharara in a statement Thursday. “In a recorded conversation, Lichtenstein bragged of using his NYPD connections to obtain 150 gun licenses. This type of corruption not only undermines public confidence in law enforcement, but it undermines public safety. And it cannot be tolerated.”
As part of his plea, Lichtenstein forfeited $230,000, funds earned through the fixing scheme, to the federal government. His sentencing is set for March 16, 2017 and if given the maximum punishment faces as much as 20 years in prison.
Three NYPD officers were placed on leave in connection with the scheme with one, Sgt. David Villanueva, ultimately charged with bribery and conspiracy to commit bribery. Villanueva is currently out on a $200,000 bond and is set for trial to begin Feb. 13, 2017. If convicted on all charges he faces up to 15 years in prison.
A second officer, Richard Ochetal, pleaded guilty previously and is cooperating with the government.