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Officer pleads guilty in gun smuggling case

February 6, 2012 4:45:50 PM PST
A Brooklyn police officer trying to make extra money to buy a house pleaded guilty Monday to conspiracy charges, admitting his central role in a smuggling case that involved guns, cigarettes and slot machines.

Officer William Masso, 48, could face roughly five to six years in prison at a June 15 sentencing. He was the first among a dozen individuals to enter a plea that negates the need for a trial in the case that was built over the past two years. Others charged include three retired New York Police Department officers and a New Jersey correction officer.

"He's a broken man," his lawyer, Ronald Fischetti said of his client, who cried before the plea hearing and at times during it. His sister dabbed her eyes with a tissue as she watched from the first row of the spectator section. His wife and three children, two girls and a boy, were not in court. "The family is just absolutely crushed," Fischetti said.

The plea came amid ever increasing scrutiny of the role unlicensed guns play in the rising threat to law enforcement officers across the country. The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, a nonprofit group that tracks police deaths, reported that 173 officers died in the line of duty last year, a 13 percent rise from 153 recorded in 2010.

Fischetti said Masso had a sterling record with the police department for nearly 18 years before he met a federal cooperator who recommended a plan to transport cigarettes bought at Indian reservations into New York. He said the FBI developed a sting operation that led to the transport of supposedly stolen slot machines from Atlantic City and weapons from New Jersey across state lines into New York.

"He was trying to buy a house for his family and he started with cigarettes. It just got bigger and bigger," the lawyer said. "He got sucked in and just ran and ran and ran."

Before long, Masso was recruiting other law enforcement officers to join the scheme.

Authorities said the FBI from September 2010 to last October supplied Masso and others with items that carried a street value of approximately $1 million. They included three M-16 rifles, one shotgun, 16 handguns, 12 slot machines and thousands of cartons of cigarettes, along with counterfeit merchandise.

The defendants were paid about $100,000 during the scheme, authorities said.

Fischetti said Masso was paid about $50,000 and must return that amount as part of his plea deal.

He said Masso was "terribly embarrassed and terribly remorseful."

In a release, prosecutors said Masso urged his co-conspirators last March to carry their law enforcement badges and, if stopped, say they were police officers working off-duty to deliver items another person had purchased at an auction.

They said Masso also bragged to his gun contact that his smuggling ring could get anything "from A to Z" and followed up the boast a few months later in September by transporting firearms that had been rendered inoperable by the FBI from New Jersey to Long Island. During the journey, he displayed his NYPD jacket by hanging it so that it was visible through his car's window, they added.

"William Masso brought dishonor and disrepute to his fellow officers and was willing to endanger others for his own personal gain," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said. "With today's guilty plea, the NYPD, which is the finest police force in the world, is one step closer to putting this sorry episode behind it."

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