HARTFORD — A several month long federal sting operation culminated Tuesday when FBI agents locked down and then raided the New Haven Police Department headquarters, arresting two officers – including Lt. Billy White, the head of the department’s narcotics division — and three bail bondsmen at the Chapel Street state courthouse.
The five men were later presented for arraignment in Hartford’s federal district court, where four were released on bail and one was remanded and placed under suicide watch. Hours later, Mayor John DeStefano vowed at a late night press conference to conduct a massive review of the NHPD Narcotics Division, emphasizing that only two individuals had been arrested. But the affidavit provided by the government suggests that the corruption might run much deeper than two renegade officers.
White, 63, was charged with criminal conspiracy and stealing thousands of federal dollars, some planted by the FBI over the course of several months. If convicted, White could face up to 15 years in prison and $500,000 in fines.
Detective Justen Kasperzyk, 39, was charged with the misdemeanor offense of stealing less than $1,000 in federal funds, and Robert Jacobs, 79, Paul Jacobs, 48, and Philip Jacobs, 47 — a father and his two sons, who together run a New Haven bonds trading corporation — were each charged with one count of bribery conspiracy for allegedly paying White and others thousands of dollars in under-the-table funds to track down fugitives who did not appear in court.
Kasperzyk and all three members of the Jacobs family were released on bail at the order of Judge Thomas Smith, the presiding federal district judge. After a brief argument between the federal prosecutor and White’s lawyer, who learned of the arrest and details of the case only several minutes before the arraignment, White was ordered to remain in detention without bail under suicide watch and to receive a psychiatric evaluation by Wednesday morning.
At the hearing, Smith summarized the prosecutor’s findings as demonstrating that there is “a group of renegade police officers run amok in New Haven.”
Several FBI and New Haven sources said more arrests were expected in the coming weeks as the investigation turns from covert to overt, and one police officer told the New Haven Independent that “people are nervous,” particularly because the department is already facing a detective shortage.
At his press conference, DeStefano said that there may not be a narcotics division after a city investigation into the department concludes.
In the courtroom, U.S. Attorney David Ring described wiretap recordings, video, still images and testimonial evidence that White stole thousands of dollars and was engaged in criminal conspiracy with the bail bondsmen. The prosecutor argued that White might try to flee or escape justice by suicide since “this is not a weak case; this is an overwhelming case.”
“To say it grossly, his noose is just hooked on this one,” Ring said, adding, “Under these conditions, he is at an extreme risk of suicide.”
White evidently understood the severity of the charges against him. According to Ring, White said in the ride to the courthouse that his life is “over” and that “this is the end.” After flinching and shaking his head while his handcuffs were removed, White grasped his head with both hands and looked down for much of the hearing, often shaking his head as Ring described specific incidents caught on tape or by wiretap of a police officer working undercover, who might have sparked the FBI investigation by tipping off agents last year.
After the hearing, NHPD Chief Francisco Ortiz made a brief statement to the press outside the courthouse, calling the sting a “joint operation.” But he declined to answer questions as to when and how much he knew about the FBI’s undercover operation.
“Today is a very dark day for our police department,” Ortiz said. “I’m disgusted. I’m upset. I’m frustrated.”
The undercover operation became public Tuesday morning when the FBI locked down the NHPD headquarters and state courthouse to arrest the defendants. DeStefano was in Washington, D.C. at the time of the arrests, initially unaware of the investigation’s breadth or timing.
An ‘overwhelming’ case
A 50-page affidavit prepared by FBI Special Agent James McGoey and unsealed by order of the judge in Hartford on Tuesday contains detailed descriptions of about a dozen instances since July 2006 — the time at which the informant went undercover in the NHPD — in which the defendants allegedly engaged in illegal activity, sometimes agreeing to risking the lives of others in the process.
The money White stole, according to the document, includes both deliberately planted federal funds and small sums he found during investigations, some of which he conducted without search warrants.
But White’s attorney Richard Cramer said his client “has an impeccable record in the New Haven Police Department.” The New York Times reported Wednesday that White is married with three children and about to retire from the NHPD.
According to the affidavit, on Jan. 31, White was told by the informant that a drug dealer had left his car near the Long Wharf neighborhood and that the car might contain money. When White found it, he allegedly considered stealing it all — even though the person who he thought tipped off police might be murdered.
“What do you think?” he said in the affidavit. “The only thing I don’t like, I’m gonna kill him. That’s the only thing,” adding later, “Fuck it, let’s go. Estupido on everybody probably.”
According to the document, “estupido” referred to the epithet he wrote on the car in order to pretend the robbery was a break-in.
Eventually, the affidavit said, White took $14,105 for himself and said he would hoard it in his house.
Gesturing toward a “bulge in the area of his abdomen created by the money in his sweatshirt pockets,” White said in the affidavit. “Damn, look how fat I got!”
On Tuesday at the courthouse, the prosecutor brought out an enlarged photograph of a disguised White stealing the money. White shook his head as he did so.
In another incident described in the affidavit, White allegedly stole less than $1,000 from a woman whose house he was searching, but when she called to complain, he insisted he should speak to internal affairs.
Calls to White’s home were not answered on Wednesday.
The document also describes how Kasperzyk stole a small sum of money recovered during a search and used the money to gamble at the First Independent Club.
But the bulk of the affidavit describes the at times convoluted stories of the bail bondsmen, who allegedly made regular payments to certain police officers such as White to help find and arrest fugitives. The bondsmen avoided paying bail when the fugitives were turned in.
The Jacobs family’s attorney, William Dow, argued at the hearing that his clients were not flight risks, noting that Robert Jacobs was a virtual city institution. Several years ago, the Jacobs firm won an award for the top bail bonds firm in Connecticut.
“Robert knows more people in town probably than the mayor himself,” Dow said.
Several pages of the document were redacted, and the affidavit notes that it does not discuss the “full scope of the criminal activity that is being investigated, or that has been revealed during the course of the investigation.”
A stunned city reacts
As the city prepares to brace for possible future arrests and a focused federal investigation into the NHPD — which has been criticized by some aldermen and community members recently for ineffectiveness and lack of transparency and responsiveness — New Haven leaders were quick to emphasize the limited number of arrests while expressing disapproval of the alleged actions of White and his accomplices.
Board of Aldermen President Carl Goldfield said he did not see the arrests as an indication of widespread corruption, but rather as an indication of the effectiveness of city government.
“To some degree, it shows that we are effective at fettering out corruption,” he said. “As soon as they heard about this, they cooperated fully. It seems as if this was a successful investigation, and they’re going to pull everyone in who was involved is doing bad stuff.”
A shaken DeStefano, who arrived in New Haven late Tuesday night, invoked the memory of his father, a rank-and-file police officer and said he felt “sick and angry” after reading the affidavit.
Ward 11 Alderman Ed Mattison said he recently met White at a community meeting, and that while he was convinced that White — who gave out his cell phone and urged residents to call him — had a “visceral hatred of drug dealers,” he lacked a strategic vision to rid of them. Speaking softly and in a low, somber tone, Mattison said the arrests came as a “shock” to him and to many throughout the city. It is the topic on everyone’s mind now, he said.
“I had no idea he was doing this, and I don’t think anybody else did either, except maybe the people he was confiding in,” Mattison said. “It feels very terrible to me that somebody in that kind of position of responsibility could do something so – it just demonstrated a willingness to go far beyond someone in that position would do. I’m really very sad for the city.”