NYPD officer pleads not guilty in drug robbery ring

By Tom Hays
Associated Press

NEW YORK — A New York City police officer was charged Friday with being a member of a robbery crew that specialized in impersonating police and torturing rival East Coast drug dealers until they gave up stashes of cocaine and cash.

Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn accused Jorge Arbaje-Diaz of committing of a least one robbery while on duty and in his New York Police Department uniform. They also claimed in court papers that the officer made "post-arrest admissions," but didn't elaborate.

Arbaje-Diaz pleaded not guilty Friday at his arraignment.

The arrest "brings dishonor to the proud reputation of the thousands of law enforcement officers in New York who put their lives on the line every day to protect their residents and communities," U.S. Attorney Benton Campbell said in a statement.

Arbaje-Diaz, 30, was arrested and suspended from the force shortly after midnight Friday following a tour as a transit officer in the Bronx. In court, the officer's lawyer asked prosecutors for details of his client's statements and results of a search of his home. But he didn't comment on the case.

The officer was among three men arrested Friday in an ongoing investigation by the NYPD, the Drug Enforcement Administration and New York State Police. Ten other suspects were charged earlier this year in what officials described as one of the more brazen and lucrative robbery operations in recent memory. All 13 are from the Dominican Republic.

The spree netted more than 1,650 pounds of cocaine worth $20 million and $4 million in cash since 2003. At least 100 people were injured.

Investigators say the gang paid informants to provide the names and whereabouts of traffickers around New York City, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida. After that, it conducted surveillance for days or even weeks, sometimes using satellite tracking devices.

Once the crew had a fix on its targets' daily routines, it would use fake squad cars equipped with lights and sirens to trick their victims into stopping. They would invade homes the same way, then handcuff the inhabitants and haul them away at gunpoint.

Arbaje-Diaz - "a vital and active member" of the gang - once "left patrol still wearing his NYPD uniform and carrying his official firearm, badge and handcuffs to meet members of the crew and carry out a robbery," court papers said. "He used his status as a police officer ... to illegally demand access to the homes of his victims."

During interrogations at dingy hideouts, the bandits allegedly bound their victims with duct tape, beat them and held guns to their heads to get them to reveal information. Using bathtubs, they simulated drownings by repeatedly submerging victims' heads, court papers said.

One victim told investigators that during a 2005 abduction, two gang members "applied a pair of pliers to the victim's testicles and threatened to squeeze the pliers if the victim did not talk," the papers said.

Arbaje-Diaz was ordered held without bail. If convicted of robbery, drug dealing, firearms possession and other charges, he faces a minimum of 45 years in prison.

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