A former New York Police Department detective took bribes from a group of robbers to help them evade arrest in a string of robberies targeting Asian American small businesses, federal prosecutors alleged Thursday.
Saul Arismendy De La Cruz, a former NYPD officer and then detective, aided a “violent theft crew” led by Dagoberto Soto-Ramirez by taking bribes in exchange for helping members of the four-person group avoid arrest, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York said in press release.
His lawyer, Howard Turner, told NBC News that De La Cruz has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
“My client is entitled to the presumption of innocence and a fair trial, and I ask the public to withhold judgment as I evaluate and gather evidence while the judicial process continues,” Turner said in a statement.
From 2017 to 2022, the robbery crew committed a series of home invasion robberies and residential burglaries that primarily targeted the owners of small businesses, according to the indictment, filed in federal court in White Plains, New York. The majority of the targets were Asian American.
The group, armed with guns and other weapons, stole money, jewelry and other property from dozens of homes across the country, the indictment charged.
All of the suspected members, with the exception of Soto-Ramirez, were arrested by federal authorities on Thursday and charged with racketeering conspiracy. Soto-Ramirez additionally has been charged with two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering and two counts of firearm possession used in a crime. The suspected members of the crew, if found guilty, could face up to 20 years in prison.
Soto-Ramirez, 41, remains at large and is wanted by the FBI.
De La Cruz — who went by the alias “Nene” and “Venom” in the crew, according to the DOJ — was a field intelligence officer assigned to the 100 Precinct in Queens.
“Corruption, violence, and racially targeted crime are intolerable, and this Office stands with our law enforcement partners in the fight against all three,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement.
NYPD Commissioner Keechant L. Sewell rebuked the former NYPD detective, saying in a statement: “Violent criminal acts like the type alleged today are a disgrace. When such behavior involves a former police officer who shamelessly exploits their position of power for personal gain, it erodes public trust in law enforcement and tarnishes the reputations of the many thousands of women and men who honorably serve New Yorkers each day.”
The U.S. Attorney Office’s White Plains Division is handling the case, and assistant U.S. Attorneys Josiah Pertz and Jeffrey C. Coffman are in charge of the prosecution.