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Three Current and Former NYPD Officers Charged with Tow-Truck Bribery Scheme. One of Them Is Accused of ‘Armed Drug Trafficking’ Conspiracy.


NYPD vehicle

Three current and former New York City Police Department officers participated in a bribery scheme involving tow trucks, and one of them was involved in an “armed drug trafficking” conspiracy, a federal grand jury charged on Tuesday.

The charged NYPD officers are New Yorkers Heather Busch, a 34-year-old from Massapequa; Robert Hassett, a 36-year-old from Farmingville; and Robert Smith, a 44-year-old from Plainview who retired in March 2020.

Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Mark Lesko accused the officers in a statement of having “shamelessly violated their oaths of office and the public trust by trading their badges for cash payments.”

“This Office will vigorously pursue corrupt public servants like these defendants, who exploited their positions as police officers for personal gain,” Lesko wrote.

FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William Sweeney called the trio’s alleged behavior a “disgrace.”

“It erodes public trust in law enforcement and tarnishes the reputations of the many thousands of officers who honorably serve our communities on a daily basis,” Sweeney wrote.

In addition to filing an indictment against the three officers, the government released a letter seeking Smith’s detention.

“As alleged in the indictment, Smith engaged in a series of corrupt criminal schemes for years while employed by the NYPD and continuing after he retired from the NYPD, including, at times, in concert with Hassett and Busch,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan C. Harris wrote in that letter.

The nine-count indictment divides the alleged conspiracies broadly into three buckets: the “tow truck scheme,” the “victim database scheme,” and the “armed drug trafficking scheme. All three have been charged with allegations concerning bribery and conspiring to violate the Travel Act.

Prosecutors claim that the first scheme began in September 2016, and it involved steering damaged vehicles to an unnamed tow and repair operated by someone prosecutors describe as “Individual No. 1.”

“In exchange for their participation in the Tow Truck Scheme, Hassett and Smith received thousands of dollars in cash bribe payments from Individual No. 1,” the indictment states. “Hassett and Smith continued to participate in the Tow Truck Scheme until at least June 2017, when Hassett and Smith temporarily suspended their conduct related to the Tow Truck Scheme.”

For the “victim database scheme,” Hassett and Smith agreed to obtain the names and identifying information of recent automobile accident victims from NYPD databases to that individual, who in turn would sell the data to physical therapy businesses and personal injury attorneys, prosecutors allege.

Smith is named in the last two counts: attempted heroin distribution and possessing a firearm during a drug trafficking crime.

The indictment claims that this scheme began with a meeting with “Individual No. 1” in Queens, N.Y., on Feb. 21, 2020.

“During that meeting, Smith and Individual No. 1 discussed the types of illegal narcotics that Smith might transport, the payments he might receive and the logistics of transportation,” the indictment states. “Smith also asked Individual No. 1 to confirm that the drug trafficking organization did not ‘have no rats or nothing.'”

According to the indictment, talks progressed, and the individual arranged meetings with other unnamed people.

“In approximately July 2020, Smith met with an individual that Smith understood to be a drug trafficker and accepted a bag containing what Smith understood to be a kilogram of heroin,” the prosecution’s memo seeking his detention states. “At that meeting, Smith advised that he had a firearm, showing it to the individual. Thereafter, Smith transported the bag from Uniondale, New York to Queens, New York, where he delivered it to another individual who Smith understood to be a drug trafficker. Thereafter, Smith received $1,200 in cash for his assistance.”

The men will be arraigned at 3 p.m. Eastern Time, in proceedings that will take place virtually in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read the court filings below:

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."