A corrupt officer who cooperated with a federal investigation of the NYPD’s gun license division was sentenced to two years’ probation Wednesday after he tearfully apologized for “betraying the badge.”
Judge Sidney Stein said he’d intended to sentence ex-Officer Richard Ochetal to time behind bars, but that he was moved by the disgraced cop’s deep remorse. Ochetal was the government’s first cooperator in a sprawling probe revealed in 2016 into rampant bribery for hard-to-obtain city gun permits.
The investigation also revealed unusually cozy relationships between two Mayor de Blasio donors and the upper ranks of the police department.
“I betrayed the badge because we’d all betrayed the badge and it needed to be rectified,” Ochetal said, trembling.
Ochetal said he had accepted $15,000 worth of bribes in limo rides, cash and liquor because he was seeking acceptance from his supervisors who were doing the same thing. The bribes came in the form of fancy meals, vacations, Broadway tickets and strippers.
“I believed I was simply following orders,” he said. “We were all involved in bribery, conspiracy.”
Ochetal testified in the trial of Brooklyn businessman Jeremy Reichberg and former Deputy Inspector James “Jimmy” Grant. His cooperation was also critical in the cases against gun license expediters Frank Soohoo and Gaetano Valastro, as well as his own colleagues in the division, Sgt. David Villanueva, Lt. Paul Dean and Officer Robert Espinel.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly Ravener said Ochetal was less culpable than Villanueva, who also cooperated and was sentenced to four months in prison.
Ochetal, who is now working as a stagehand, must pay a $15,000 fine and serve 320 hours of community service.
“Yes, you dishonored the badge, but you clearly have done what you can to try to make up for that,” Stein said.
Ochetal said the stress of cooperating had given him chronic night tremors. He’d gone through periods where he did not eat, sleep or leave the house.
“I believed my life was completely ruined,” he said.