Mount Vernon cops investigated by feds for possible ties to street gangs
Federal investigators are probing whether some Mount Vernon police officers are aligned with members of street gangs that have long plagued the city, Newsday has learned.
The investigation, led by the U.S. attorney's office in White Plains and the FBI, is focusing on a number of uniformed officers, according to several federal and local law enforcement sources who spoke to Newsday on condition of anonymity.
"It's looking at Mount Vernon officers who could be working with some unsavory types," said one federal law enforcement source who acknowledged that he was referring to loosely-organized street gang members involved with illegal drugs, weapons, robberies and assaults in the city.
The probe, which is still in the early stages, is focusing on rank-and-file patrol officers. As of now, the investigators have not established whether the alleged corruption could extend up the chain of command, the sources added.
Outgoing Mount Vernon Police Commissioner Carl Bell said Wednesday that he was unaware of any outside agency probing the department. Bell, who was fired Tuesday by Mayor Ernie Davis after the relationship between the two men had grown increasingly strained, did say that he had "heard the rumors" about possible street gang involvement by some officers.
"We investigated that but nothing ever panned out," Bell said.
Spokesmen for the U.S. attorney's office and the FBI declined Friday to comment.
Davis did not return calls seeking comment on the investigation.
Mount Vernon Police Benevolent Association president Gregory Addison said he was unaware of any federal probe involving the Police Department.
"To my knowledge, there's no truth to it," he said of alleged gang involvement by officers.
The alleged connections between some Mount Vernon police officers and street gang members are based on longtime friendships rather than payoffs, according to the law enforcement sources.
"They're buddies," a law enforcement source said. "They grew up together and now that they're police officers they're taking care of their friends in gangs."
In one alleged incident, Mount Vernon officers arrested a street gang member who they said was carrying an illegal weapon, according to one law enforcement source. Other officers tried to quash the arrest, then helped the reputed gang member file a brutality complaint against the officers who arrested the gang member.
"You could tell a cop wrote it because it included every member of the (police) detail -- including those who were on vacation at the time," the source said.
Concerns over possible gang involvement by Mount Vernon police officers have caused other law enforcement agencies to shy away from working with the department, according to the sources.
"They won't work with (Mount Vernon police)," a law enforcement source familiar with the investigation said. "And forget about anything that involves a wire. They're not trusted."
None of the sources interviewed would speak about what prompted the investigation.
No federal grand jury has yet been empaneled to hear evidence in the case, the sources told Newsday.
The probe is separate from the federal investigation of Davis' finances, the sources said. Officials are investigating how the mayor came to own 10 residential properties in four states worth more than $1 million. They are also looking into at least three nonprofit funds Davis set up.
Two different prosecution teams are leading the investigations, federal law enforcement sources said.
Also separate from the federal investigation is Bell's firing, as both he and Davis had been kept in the dark about the probe into the Police Department, according to the law enforcement sources.
Sources added that federal authorities were caught unaware by Davis' decision to let go of his top cop.
Bell, a former federal Drug Enforcement Administration agent and supervisor, was fired after a 2 1/2-year tenure as commissioner of the 205-member department. His last day is Friday.
He and Davis were increasingly at odds as crime in the city surged and the mayor exerted progressively greater control over the Police Department.
In 2012, there were 10 homicides and more than 20 shootings in Mount Vernon. Only two arrests have been made in the homicide cases. The 10 killings surpassed the combined total of the previous two years.