Taking advantage of law enforcement tactics and intel, a retired detective and seven active NYPD members allegedly conspired to operate a lucrative prostitution and gaming enterprise in Queens and Brooklyn, prosecutors announced on Thursday.
Authorities said that retired NYPD Vice Detective Ludwig Paz, 51, of Queens, and his wife, Arelis Peralta, led the day-to-day operations of the ring. Paz enlisted the active officers to help avoid police raids at seven brothels under his supervision in Brooklyn, Long Island and on Liberty Avenue in Jamaica.
Another brothel was identified as a home on Onderdonk Avenue in Ridgewood, across the street from Starr Playground.
In some instances, prosecutors noted, he allegedly paid the cops money to receive confidential information about police activities. News of the seven active officers’ arrests broke on Wednesday; nearly three dozen civilians have also been charged, and two other NYPD detectives were placed on modified duty.
Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown, in announcing the grand jury indictment against the ring participants on Sept. 13, stated that Paz “allegedly used his knowledge of the inner workings” of the NYPD to avoid detection.
As one example, he allegedly required clients at the brothels to undress and allow themselves to be fondled in order to pass security screening; he knew that any undercover detectives who may have stopped in could not expose their genitalia during interactions with alleged prostitutes, as per NYPD protocol.
“His alleged illegal enterprise also included using established lotteries to run illegal gambling in beauty salons and other locations in two boroughs,” Brown said. “These operations stop today. I want to commend the hard work of the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau and members of my Rackets and Organized Crime and Integrity Bureaus for their hard work in breaking up these illegal industries.”
Internal Affairs learned of the prostitution operation in April 2015 through a tip provided by a police officer who learned of the scheme. A lengthy investigation, which involved the use of undercover agents, court-authorized wiretaps and surveillance, helped cops and prosecutors crack the case.
“These NYPD officers, who swore an oath to uphold ideals greater than themselves, have ruined their own careers and reputations,” Police Commissioner James O’Neill said on Thursday. “More importantly, they have diminished the great work of tens of thousands of other honest and ethical cops. Everything we do in the policing profession is hugely dependent on the trust we build with the people who live and work in our neighborhoods. Whenever officers betray that trust by engaging in criminal behavior, they tarnish the shields they wear. The New Yorkers we serve will never tolerate this, and neither will this police department.”
Law enforcement sources said three NYPD members allegedly aided Paz in the prostitution and gaming operations: Detective Rene Samaniego, 43, a member of the Brooklyn South Vice Enforcement Unit; Sergeant Carlos Cruz, 41, of Brooklyn’s 69th Precinct; and Detective Giovanny Rojas-Acosta, 40, a member of the NYPD Crime Investigations Unit. According to the indictment, the three active cops allegedly fed Paz information about NYPD efforts to combat prostitution.
Another cop — Police Officer Giancarlo Raspanti, 43, of Flushing’s 109th Precinct — is accused of exchanging confidential police information with Paz in order to get a discount on sexual favors from a prostitute.
Sergeant Louis Failla, 49, of the Queens South Evidence Collection Team was also named in the indictment for allegedly helping Paz following a raid on one of the brothels.
Authorities said that two indicted brothers — Sergeants Cliff Nieves, 37, of the Transit Bureau and Steven Nieves, 32, of the 84th Precinct in Brooklyn — allegedly operated a brothel in order to host a bachelor party.
In all, Paz’s prostitution ring netted more than $2 million between August 2016 and September 2017, prosecutors said. He took out ads online to solicit clients, who subsequently visited the brothels and paid between $40 for a 15-minute encounter with a prostitute or $160 for a full hour of sex.
Brown said that Paz and Peralta allegedly operated illegal lottery businesses at the Sarahi Deli on Springfield Boulevard in Laurelton and the Shining Star Beauty Salon on 243rd Street in Rosedale. They employed numerous managers, runners and agents to help customers place illegal bets on legal lottery drawings.
According to the NYPD, Cruz, Rojas-Acosta and Samaniego were charged with enterprise corruption; Failla was booked on four counts of official misconduct; Raspanti was charged with receiving a reward for official misconduct and two official misconduct counts; and Cliff and Steven Nieves were each charged with promoting prostitution.
All of the officers have been suspended for 30 days without pay, the New York Daily News reported. Arraignment information has not yet been disclosed; QNS will update the story once it’s received.