Updated at 1:11 p.m. ET
NEW YORK - New York City police officers pleaded not guilty Friday to a range of corruption charges in a sweeping probe touched off by an investigation into whether a Bronx officer had ties to a drug dealer.
In total, 16 officers were arraigned in a packed courtroom. The halls were swarmed with people, and hundreds of officers carrying signs stood outside the courthouse and applauded as the accused officers walked through.
The Bronx officer, Jose Ramos, pleaded not guilty to drug and other charges. An internal affairs lieutenant pleaded not guilty to charges she leaked information to union officials about the probe. The rest of the officers pleaded not guilty to charges including official misconduct and obstructing governmental authority after prosecutors said they abused their authority by helping family and friends avoid paying traffic tickets.CBS News station WCBS-TV of New York reports that 80 officers have been disciplined by Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly for various minor offenses stemming from the probe.
(Watch at left a WCBS-TV report)
The case evolved from a 2009 internal affairs probe of Ramos, who owned a barber shop and was suspected of allowing a friend to deal drugs out of it. Prosecutors said he also transported drugs in uniform.
"He sold his shield, he violated his oath," Assistant District Attorney Omer Wiceyk said.
Wiceyk said Ramos was recorded as saying he "stopped caring about the law a long time ago."
Ramos' attorney, John Sandleitner, said the charges were ridiculous. "If he had done any of these things that they say, they would've arrested him two months ago. Or two years ago," he said. "Why did they let him go to work, then?"
While listening to Ramos' phone, investigators caught calls from people seeing if Ramos could fix tickets for them. The conversations led to more wiretaps that produced evidence of additional officers having similar conversations.
Internal affairs lieutenant Jennara Cobb, who pleaded not guilty to charges of divulging a wiretap, was accused of meeting with union officials about the probe. As a result, word spread through the department's most powerful union and delegates started to alter the way they fixed tickets, prosecutor Jonathan Ortiz said.
"The investigation was significantly compromised because of her actions," he said.
Her attorney, Philip Karasyk, said she denied the charges and had been unfairly singled out. She was released on bail.
"That wiretap was leaking like a sieve," he said.
Many of those arrested include high level members of the union, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the department's most powerful with 22,000 members.
"This has been laid on the shoulders of police officers, but when the dust settles and we have our day in court, it will be clear that this is part of the NYPD at all levels," union President Patrick Lynch said through a spokesman.
Among those charged were Bronx union delegates Officers Joseph Anthony, 46; Michael Hernandez, 35; and Brian McGuckin, 44. Officer Virgilio Bencosme, 33, and Officer Luis R. Rodriguez, 43, both of the 40th Precinct; Officer Christopher Scott, 41, of the 48th Precinct; Officer Jaime Payan, 37, of the 46th Precinct; Officer Eugene P. O'Reilly, 39, of the 45th Precinct; Officer Christopher Manzi, 41, of the 41st Precinct; and Jason Cenizal, 39, a former delegate from the 42nd Precinct.
Ramos' supervisor, Jacob G. Solorzano, 41, was charged with misconduct. Sgt. Marc Manara, 39, Officer Ruben Peralta, 45, Jeffrey Regan, 37 and Officer Christopher Scott, 41, of the 48th Precinct were all charged with covering up an assault for a an acquaintance. Some of the charges also overlap to include ticket fixing.
The case doesn't appear to rise to the level of the more notorious corruption scandals in the nation's largest police department. But in terms of the number of officers facing criminal or internal administrative charges, the probe represents the largest crackdown on police accused of misconduct in recent memory. Dozens of other officers may face internal charges.
Earlier this week, federal prosecutors in Manhattan brought conspiracy and other charges against five current and three former officers. In two other recent unrelated federal cases, one officer was charged with arresting a black man without cause and using a racial slur to describe the suspect, and another with using a law enforcement database to try to trump up charges against an innocent man.