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Gun running, theft, smuggling . . . how FBI brought down 'New York's Finest'

THIS is one of the 12 New York police officers accused of gun-smuggling.

Five NYPD officers smuggled firearms and slot machines they thought were stolen -- and some even used bolt cutters to pilfer hundreds of boxes of cigarettes from tractor-trailer trucks, authorities say.

The officers were under FBI surveillance the entire time.

Three retired NYPD officers and a New Jersey corrections officer are among the other defendants accused of being paid more than $100,000 to moonlight as gun-runners.

Three current officers also participated in the theft of cigarettes they were told were worth $500,000, it is claimed

New York mayor Michael Bloomberg has long targeted illegal smuggling of guns into the city and said that, if the accusations are true, the officials engaged in "a disgraceful and deplorable betrayal of the public trust".


The men were eager and willing to smuggle the weapons and commit other crimes "so long as the price was right", US Attorney Preet Bharara said at a news conference announcing the arrests.

Arresting fellow law enforcers in a corruption case "is a heartbreaking thing", Mr Bharara added.

"But it is our duty to enforce the law and to uphold the rule of law -- and to do so perhaps most unflinchingly when we come across people who have chosen to breach that sacred duty, because an officer who betrays his badge betrays every honourable officer as well as every member of the public."

The arrests stem from an FBI-NYPD internal affairs investigation that began in 2009 when a paid FBI informant tipped off authorities that an 18-year NYPD veteran, William 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, it's claimed

Court papers described the informant as a non-US citizen who "has been assisting the FBI in exchange for payment and aid in remaining in the United States".

Masso (47) recruited younger officers from his Brooklyn precinct 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, they added.

According to the complaint, Masso complained in a taped conversation that the officers weren't getting paid enough.

"They're risking a lot for a little... They know what's going and how much trouble they could get in," he is alleged to have said.

In May, three of the officers and other defendants travelled to Virginia, where they received instructions from the informant and undercover agent on where to find $500,000 worth of cigarettes in trucks parked outside a warehouse, the complaint says.

Using a bolt cutter, they broke into the rigs and stole 200 boxes they later delivered to a location on Long Island, east of New York City, it says.

Masso and other defendants also agreed last month to transport 20 weapons from New Jersey to New York using rented mini-vans, the complaint says.

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 says.


Prosecutors say the officers were unaware that the weapons also had "been rendered inoperable by the FBI," the complaint says. The undercover agent gave four of the police officers about $5,000 each to help transport the guns, it says.

Those charged in the case were each released on $100,000 personal recognisance bond, though Masso was required to wear an electronic bracelet that will force him to remain home unless he is taking his children to or from school, tending to medical, religious or legal issues or looking for a job.

Mr Bloomberg has been deeply involved in the national debate over gun control and heads a national coalition of mayors advocating stricter enforcement.