NEW YORK -- A former sergeant on the nation's largest police force who helped prosecutors build cases against his former colleagues in the biggest scandal to hit the New York Police Department in decades was sentenced to four months in prison Wednesday by a judge who said cooperation was not a get-out-of-jail-free card.
U.S. District Judge Sidney H. Stein did not spare David Villanueva from prison even after hearing the former supervisor in the department's licensing division praised by a prosecutor and after the Probation Department recommended no prison.
"It's hard for me to give the proverbial get-out-of-jail-free card," Stein said, addressing yearslong corruption resulting in over 100 gun license permits being awarded to individuals, including a felon, without proper procedures being followed.
"Corrupt police have a multiplier effect," he said. "And there has to be a statement that corruption among police officers has to be penalized."
He added: "Word has to go out that the police of the city of New York are obligated to obey the law."
Villanueva, 45, of Valley Stream, was sentenced after pleading guilty in January 2017 to conspiracy, bribery and false statement charges and testifying against co-defendants at two trials.
In court papers, prosecutors said bribes to Villanueva began in 2006 when he accepted tickets to a Broadway musical from John Chambers, an attorney whose practice consisted solely of gun license matters.
From 2006 to 2015, Villanueva accepted tickets to Broadway shows and baseball games, gift cards, boxes of toys for his son, over $2,000 in cash and two designer wristwatches, one of which was valued at $9,500, prosecutors said.
They said that in return for bribes, he speeded the closure of about 100 incident investigations into whether a gun licensee should keep a license after an arrest, a domestic dispute and an accidental discharge of a firearm.
In another scheme, he accepted about $20,000 in cash and other benefits such as Broadway tickets and airline tickets from a businessman who helped people get gun licenses, prosecutors said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Monteleoni told Stein that prosecutors probably could not have charged Chambers, a former prosecutor, without Villanueva's help. In November, Chambers was sentenced to a year in prison.
Monteleoni said Villanueva's cooperation was also pivotal in the conviction of Paul Dean, a former NYPD lieutenant and second-in-command at the licensing division.
Dean, sentenced to 18 months in prison in January, alleged in pre-sentence papers that those who received special treatment included President Donald Trump, his former lawyer Michael Cohen and Donald Trump Jr. Others included comedian Tracy Morgan, actor Tom Selleck and the owner of a Manhattan nightclub where police officers received free lap dances, he claimed.
Dean did not suggest Trump or others did anything wrong or were aware of any bribes.
Villanueva's apology at sentencing was met by Stein with questions like why he did it.
"Greed had a lot to do with it," Villaneuva answered. "I allowed myself to become a corrupt cop."