NEW YORK (AP) — A ringleader of off-duty New York Police Department officers who were caught in a sting agreeing to smuggle illegal guns and stolen merchandise was sentenced on Friday to nearly five years in prison.
A judge imposed the 57-month sentence on William Masso in federal court in Manhattan after hearing the former patrolman weep openly and apologize for disgracing the department.
"I know it was stupid. I know it was wrong," Masso said. "I'll spend the rest of my life trying to make up for this."
The 18-year NYPD veteran had faced up to 71 months behind bars after pleading guilty earlier this year to conspiracy charges, accusing him of having a central role in a scheme that made a mockery of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's long-running campaign advocating stricter gun control. The mayor had called the accusations against Masso and 11 others — most active or or former police officers — "a disgraceful and deplorable betrayal of public trust."
The arrests stemmed from an FBI-NYPD internal affairs investigation that began in 2009 when a paid FBI informant tipped off authorities that Masso was interested in making money by transporting stolen goods. In the months that followed, the informant and an undercover investigator posing as the ringleader began supplying the defendants and others cigarettes — purportedly stolen out of state — for resale in New York, a criminal complaint said.
Masso, 48, recruited officers from his Brooklyn precinct, including a rookie he was supposed to train, to join the smuggling ring, authorities said. He instructed the men to carry their badges while transporting the stolen goods and, if they were stopped by police, to say they were doing legitimate off-duty work, authorities said.
Three of the officers and other defendants traveled to Virginia, where they received instructions from the informant and undercover on where to find $500,000 worth of cigarettes in trucks parked outside a warehouse, a criminal complaint said. Using a bolt cutter, they broke into the rigs and stole 200 boxes they later delivered to a location on Long Island, it said.
Masso and other defendants also agreed last month to transport 20 weapons from New Jersey to New York using rented mini-vans, the complaint said. The cache was composed of three assault rifles, a shotgun and 16 handguns with serial numbers that had been "obliterated or altered" so they couldn't be traced, it said.
Bloomberg has inserted himself into the national debate over gun control and heads a national coalition of mayors advocating stricter enforcement.
Eleven of the 12 people charged in the case have pleaded guilty.