By Jeremy Walsh
Having faced humiliation in their community and the demise of their family grocery store, two Elmhurst brothers are suing the Police Department after they say undercover detectives framed them on trumped up charges of selling drugs at a bar in January.
Jose and Maximo Colon have filed a notice of claim seeking unspecified damages against the Police Department, their lawyers said Monday. Accused of a crime they say they did not commit, the brothers watched as their authorization to carry Lotto machines and cigarettes was revoked and the business at their store dwindled.
“It was really, really bad,” said Jose Colon, who opened the store in December. “The people were saying, 'You don't got cigarettes, you don't got Lotto, you don't got nothing.' It was embarrassing.”
Had they been convicted, the Dominican immigrants could have had their green cards revoked and been deported, their lawyers said. The criminal charges have been dropped, but the Colons, who say they do not use drugs, had to close their store two weeks ago.
“Right now, I'm broke,” Jose Colon said. “I've got to find a job and I've got take care of my daughter and family.”
Jose, 23, and Maximo, 27, were drinking at Delicias de Mi Tierra, a bar on 91st Place, after work Jan. 4 when they were arrested, attorney Rochelle Berliner said.
Detectives said they asked Luis Rodriguez, the Colons' friend, for $100 worth of cocaine and that he sent them to Maximo Colon, according to a criminal complaint filed by the Queens district attorney's office.
The detectives alleged Maximo Colon patted one of them down to check for a wire before accepting the money, the complaint said. Detectives identified Jose Colon as the one who gave them the cocaine, the complaint said.
The undercover officers then left the bar before a second team of officers arrived to make the arrests.
But surveillance video footage retrieved from the bar by Jose Colon shows that the undercover officers never spoke to the brothers.
“I'd never seen anything like this,” Berliner said of the footage. “I was a prosecutor for 14 years. It hit me very deeply.”
When Berliner and fellow court-appointed defender Tom Wolk showed the footage to prosecutors, she said they were dumbfounded.
“These cops are colleagues of theirs,” she said. “They bring them cases all the time.”
The footage directly contradicts the sworn statement of the undercover officers, who could face charges of filing a false report, a misdemeanor offense.
A spokeswoman for the DA's office confirmed that there is an ongoing active investigation involving narcotics arrests and that cases against four defendants have been dismissed so far, but declined to identify any of the officers or the former defendants.
The New York Post identified the three undercover officers as Henry Tavarez, Steven Anderson and Alan Figueroa. Anderson has left the NYPD for the Nassau County police academy, the Post reported
The bar had four digital surveillance cameras, three of which recorded the first team of two undercover officers entering the bar, walking past the Colon brothers sitting at the bar, and later dancing gleefully outside after having made one successful deal with other patrons, Berliner said.
She said the officers may have decided more suspects would mean more paperwork — and more pay.
“With six bodies, you get a decent amount of overtime,” she said. “Unfortunately, cops get paid very little.”
That knowledge comes as little comfort to Jose Colon.
“If you don't get good cops, they can do anything they want,” he said.
Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.