April 24, 2018 / 4:02 PM / 8 months ago

Ex-New York prosecutor found guilty in gun permit bribe case

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York City lawyer was found guilty in Manhattan federal court on Tuesday of bribing a police sergeant to help his clients get gun licenses.

John Chambers, who once worked as an assistant district attorney in Brooklyn, was convicted by a jury of bribery, conspiracy and fraud after a little more than three hours of deliberations, which began Monday afternoon.

“We are disappointed in the verdict and will take the case up on appeal,” said Chambers’ lawyer, Roger Stavis.

Chambers, 63, was arrested in April 2017.

Prosecutors said he paid bribes including cash, Broadway tickets, clothes and an $8,000 watch to David Villanueva, a former sergeant in the New York Police Department’s gun licensing division. In exchange, they said, Villanueva helped Chambers’ clients bypass the normal channels for getting gun licenses.

“John Chambers paid bribe after bribe to put guns in the hands of people who had no business having them,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Monteleoni told jurors during his closing argument on Monday.

Villanueva was also charged, but pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and testified against Chambers during the trial last week. He said he repeatedly used his power to help Chambers’ clients, including one whose license was reinstated after being suspended after a report of a “domestic incident.”

Stavis told jurors during his closing argument that Chambers’ gifts were motivated by genuine friendship, and that Villanueva was a “dirty cop” who lied about his former friend to save himself.

“John Chambers became David Villanueva’s get out of jail free card,” Stavis said.

Chambers’ wife, Christina Chambers, testified in her husband’s defense, saying he considered his friendship with Villanueva a “gem.”

One of the jurors, who asked not to be named, told reporters after the verdict that the jury had been sympathetic to Chambers but that much of the evidence against him, in the form of text messages and emails, was “black and white.”

The case emerged from a broader investigation in which at least two others have pleaded guilty to paying bribes for gun licenses. Alex Lichtenstein, a member of a volunteer safety patrol in an Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, was sentenced to 32 months in prison last year, while another man, Frank Soohoo, has been cooperating with authorities, according to court records. A lawyer for Soohoo could not immediately be reached for comment.

Villanueva testified last week that he took bribes from both men.

Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Frances Kerry

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