More than 50 drug convictions vacated over former NYPD cop accused of perjury

The Brooklyn District Attorney's Office lost confidence in those prosecutions.

April 7, 2021, 2:06 PM

One by one, Brooklyn Criminal Court Judge Keisha Espinal vacated more than 50 drug convictions that had been based on the testimony of former NYPD detective Joseph Franco.

Franco was charged two years ago with perjury in Manhattan and while there's no evidence of misconduct in his Brooklyn cases from 2004-2011, the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office said it had lost confidence in the prosecutions.

"The district attorney has determined that under these circumstances the vacature of a drug related conviction serves the interest of justice, preserves limited resources, enhances public safety and strengthens trust in the criminal justice system," Assistant District Attorney Eric Sonnenschein said during a Wednesday morning hearing.

Dozens more cases were set to be dismissed later Wednesday in a separate hearing.

Sonnenschein, the deputy director of the office's conviction review unit, said Franco's alleged criminal conduct could not have been known to prosecutors or defense attorneys at the time since it wasn't charged until years later.

"The people have not discovered the defendants' convictions were based on fabricated evidence or that the defendants are innocent," Sonnenschein said.

However, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said in a statement that he had "lost confidence in cases where the detective was an essential witness."

The Legal Aid Society, which represented many of the defendants whose convictions were tossed, applauded the move.

"Corrupt NYPD Detective Franco touched thousands of cases throughout New York City, and we may never know the full extent of the damage he caused and lives he upended, said Tina Luongo, attorney-in-charge of the Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society.

PHOTO: New York Police Department Detective Joseph Franco is escorted to his arraignment in Manhattan, April 24, 2019.
New York Police Department Detective Joseph Franco is escorted to his arraignment in Manhattan, April 24, 2019.
Jefferson Siegel/The New York Times via Redux Pictures

Franco, 48, who was fired by the NYPD in May 2020, is facing charges including perjury, offering a false instrument for filing and official misconduct. Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance said Franco, while assigned to Manhattan's South Narcotics Division, lied about three arrests for drug crimes that were made between February 2017 and May 2018.

He has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.

"Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez's premature decision to dismiss 90 cases in summary fashion despite an investigation by his office which failed to uncover anything improper, is baseless and irresponsible. This shocking and highly publicized decision has created a toxic atmosphere that is prejudicial to Mr. Franco's constitutional right to the presumption of innocence and a fair trial by an impartial jury," Franco's attorney, Howard E. Tanner, said in a statement. "My client, a 20-year decorated former Detective with the NYPD, maintains his innocence and will mount an aggressive defense."

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