NEW YORK -- Prosecutors are asking a New York City court to throw out 90 drug convictions following a review of arrests involving a former narcotics detective charged with corruption.
The mostly low-level cases investigated by Joseph Franco while a NYPD officer in Brooklyn from 2004 to 2011 should be vacated because of his ongoing criminal case in Manhattan, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said Wednesday. A 2019 indictment accuses Franco of perjury and other charges alleging he framed innocent people at a time when one supervisor has said he was considered a star cop.
The review of the mostly low-level Brooklyn cases dating back a decade or more found no similar misconduct on Franco’s part or that the defendants were innocent, prosecutors said Wednesday. But because of the Manhattan case, “I have lost confidence in his work,” Gonzalez said in a statement.
"I cannot in good faith stand by convictions that principally relied on his testimony,” he added.
Tina Luongo, attorney-in-charge of the Legal Aid Society’s criminal defense practice, lauded Gonzalez’s decision to vacate the convictions. She urged other district attorneys in the city to perform similar reviews.
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,” Luongo said in a statement.
The decision drew a sharp rebuke from Franco's lawyer, Howard Tanner. He said it was “baseless and irresponsible" and would "create a toxic atmosphere" that could harm his client's right to a fair trial in the Manhattan case.
During a virtual hearing on Wednesday morning, a judge began the process of vacating the cases at the request of defense attorneys. At issue were 27 felony and 63 misdemeanor convictions, most resulting from guilty pleas.
A lieutenant who supervised Franco testified at his disciplinary trial that he was “one of the best detectives” and had a “sixth sense” for locating drug dealers. A fellow detective testified that he regarded Franco as the best cop he’d ever worked with. Another said he worked on dozens of drug busts with Franco and never had reason to doubt him.
By contrast, prosecutors alleged the detective lied in testimony and made false statements in court papers, leading to three unlawful arrests.
Charging documents said Franco, working as a plainclothes detective in 2017 and 2018, “falsely claimed to observe individuals engaging in narcotics transactions.” Security camera footage contradicted Franco’s claims in each of the four arrests covered in the indictment, prosecutors said.
Franco has pleaded not guilty and the case is pending. The three convictions that resulted from his alleged actions have been vacated.