NEW YORK – The United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today the guilty plea of Paul Dean, to his role in a scheme to obtain approval of gun licenses by the NYPD License Division in exchange for cash payments and non-monetary bribes.
Dean was a member of the NYPD from 1994 through 2016, and was assigned to the License Division from 2008 through 2016. He was one of the highest-ranking members of the License Division and, from approximately November 2014 through November 2015, regularly ran the day-to-day operations of the License Division. Robert Espinel was a member of the NYPD from 1995 through his retirement in 2016, and was assigned to the License Division from 2011 through 2016.
From at least 2013 through 2016, multiple NYPD officers in the License Division serving under Dean’s command, including David Villanueva and Richard Ochetal, solicited and accepted bribes from gun license expediters in exchange for providing assistance to the expediters’ clients in obtaining gun licenses quickly and often with little to no diligence. They obtained bribes from at least three expediters: Gaetano Valastro, a/k/a “Guy,” Frank Soohoo, and Alex Lichtenstein, a/k/a “Shaya.” Valastro was a former NYPD detective who retired in 1999, and who operated a gun store out of which he sold guns, gun paraphernalia, and gun safety courses.
The bribes included cash payments, paid vacations, food and liquor, the services of prostitutes, and free guns, among other things. In exchange, Villanueva, Ochetal, and the other officers approved, expedited, and upgraded licenses for clients of Valastro, Lichtenstein, and Soohoo. They did so by foregoing standard License Division diligence, including by failing to interview the applicants and failing to investigate the business-based need for applicants to carry guns. They approved licenses for individuals with substantial criminal histories, including arrests and convictions for crimes involving weapons or violence, and for individuals with histories of domestic violence.
In 2015, dissatisfied with the fact that private gun expediters were profiting thousands of dollars per gun license applicant when Dean and others did the work to approve those applications, Dean and Espinel decided to retire and go into the expediting business themselves. In order to ensure the success of their business, they planned to bribe Villanueva and Ochetal, who were still in the License Division, to enable their clients to get special treatment.
They also agreed with Valastro to run their expediting and bribery scheme out of Valastro’s gun store. According to the plan, Valastro would benefit from the scheme because Dean and Espinel would steer successful applicants to Valastro’s store to buy guns. They also tried to corner the expediting market by forcing other expediters to work through them. Dean and Espinel attempted to coerce Frank Soohoo, another gun license expediter, into sharing his expediting clients with them by threatening to use their influence in the License Division to shut down Soohoo’s expediting business if Soohoo refused to work with, and make payments to, Dean and Espinel.