Officer in Ticket-Fixing Inquiry Is Accused of Trying to Kill Witness
A New York City officer accused in a broad investigation of ticket-fixing conspired with his wife to use money from his police pension to try to have one of the main witnesses against him murdered, prosecutors in the Bronx charged in an indictment unsealed on Thursday. The officer, Jose Ramos, 43, and his wife, Wanda Abreu, 39, were led into a courtroom in handcuffs for their arraignment on Thursday afternoon. Both pleaded not guilty to three counts of conspiracy and a single count of criminal solicitation. “The two defendants have conspired to murder a witness,” a prosecutor, Omer Wiczyk, told Acting Justice Steven Barrett of State Supreme Court. “They were willing to pay a fee, but it was critical to them not to be involved.” It was the latest and most serious accusation in an investigation that has unsettled police precincts in the Bronx.
In October, 16 officers were indicted — 11 on charges related to ticket-fixing — as a result of a lengthy inquiry. The inquiry began in late 2008 with an anonymous complaint against Officer Ramos, who worked in the South Bronx in the 40th Precinct, and eventually led to over two dozen wiretaps, many of them on the cellphones of police union delegates and trustees, several officials have said. When charges against the officers were announced in October, Officer Ramos was accused of two dozen crimes, including attempted robbery, attempted grand larceny, transporting what he thought was heroin for drug dealers and revealing the identity of a confidential informer. At that time, Ms. Abreu was charged with filing a fraudulent insurance claim.
In the indictment unsealed on Thursday, prosecutors said that from last Sept. 15 until May 7, Officer Ramos and Ms. Abreu tried to arrange the killing through face-to-face meetings and telephone calls, some of which were recorded on Rikers Island, where Officer Ramos was awaiting trial on the initial charges. The two used codes for people and places, prosecutors said, including five aliases for one person.
But the two used some language that was clear and unambiguous, Mr. Wiczyk said during the couple’s 20-minute arraignment. For instance, he said, when the defendants were discussing a prosecution witness who they believed was crucial, Officer Ramos told his wife: “Without him there is no case. They need him.”
Mr. Wiczyk said the two concocted a scheme to hire somebody to get rid of the witness and thus derail the case against Officer Ramos.
Ms. Abreu withdrew money from Officer Ramos’s New York Police Department pension and agreed to give a down payment to a man who would see to it that the witness was killed, Mr. Wiczyk said.
The authorities did not disclose the identity of the witness.
Prosecutors listed 16 overt acts advancing the conspiracy.
Among them, the indictment said, was that Officer Ramos said on April 25 that the fee for the murder was “no big deal” but emphasized that he should not meet or speak to the person who was to carry out the killing.
In a recorded phone call, prosecutors said, Officer Ramos gave his wife final approval for the scheme, saying: “Go ahead, do it, but do it right away.”
On May 7, the indictment said, Ms. Abreu met in her home with the man she was to give the money to, but just before she was to hand it over she balked, realizing that she was under surveillance, prosecutors said.
Steven Reed, a spokesman for District Attorney Robert Johnson, would not comment on whether the man meeting with Ms. Abreu was an undercover officer or an informant.
Mr. Wiczyk said Officer Ramos had made repeated applications for a reduced bail, partly to try to establish an alibi for himself and his wife by traveling with her to Texas at the time the murder was to be committed.
In addition, Mr. Wiczyk said, Officer Ramos and Ms. Abreu had discussed trying to get another witness against him to lie. “He has sold his soul,” Mr. Wiczyk said of Officer Ramos.
And the prosecutor said that when Ms. Abreu first heard about the murder-for-hire scheme, “her only real question was how much it will cost.”
Justice Barrett ordered that Ms. Abreu be held in $100,000 cash bail or $500,000 bond. He ordered that Officer Ramos, who was already being held in $500,000 bond, be held without bail.
The most serious charges the two face carry prison sentences of up to 25 years.
During the hearing, several people related to Officer Ramos and Ms. Abreu sat in the courtroom gallery. As the indictment was unsealed and the charges were announced, one woman covered her face with her hand, and another woman hugged a man next to her.
Standing in front of the judge, Ms. Abreu winced and appeared to blink back tears.
As Officer Ramos’s lawyer, Dawn Florio, left the courtroom, she told reporters: “We’re very shocked. My client denies all these charges, and we’re going to fight them.”
Source: NY Times By COLIN MOYNIHAN