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(Bloomberg) -- A retired New York police lieutenant and a former Brooklyn prosecutor were among a group of eight people charged with trading gun licenses for cash, strippers, booze, and a trip to Hawaii. NYPD Sgt. David Villanueva accepted an $8,000 Paul Picot watch, as well as sports memorabilia and tickets to sporting events, in exchange for permits, while working in the department’s gun-licensing unit, Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon Kim said at a Tuesday news conference. Villanueva also accepted an all-expenses paid Hawaiian honeymoon, according to the U.S. He pleaded guilty and is cooperating with prosecutors.

"The information they have provided paints a picture of pervasive corruption at the gun-licensing division," Kim said. "They were taking bribes from expediters in just about every form: good old-fashioned cash stuck in envelopes and sometimes hidden in magazines, expensive liquor, luxury watches and paid vacations."

The officers not only ignored red flags but didn’t conduct the necessary background checks before approving or reissuing licenses, Kim said.

The cops collected as much as $10,000 for speeding up the issuing of a permit, prosecutors said. One former cop retired early to cash in as an expediter, telling a colleague that he and his wife, "should buy a shovel to scoop up all the money they were going to make," Kim said.

At least 100 gun permits were issued by the NYPD to individuals who should never have gotten them, according to the government. One man, who not only had at least four domestic violence complaints lodged against him but had also threatened to kill someone, got a permit. Another who’d been arrested for brandishing a gun during an assault got it back after an expediter bribed officers at the unit, prosecutors said.

New York City Police Commissioner James O’Neill said the unit processes about 5,000 gun permits a year and the department has implemented changes at the gun-licensing division as a result of the investigation. At least 440 licenses were identified as suspicious, he said, while 100 were suspended during the probe.

"We’ve replaced all the supervisory staff and we increased supervision," O’Neill said. The investigation also prompted an overhaul of the unit’s practices and resulted in the abolishing the use of expediters, he said.

Those charged Tuesday included: Paul Dean, a former police lieutenant who was one of the highest-ranking officers in the unit before his January 2016 retirement; John Chambers, a lawyer and former assistant Brooklyn District Attorney, who marketed himself as a "Firearms Licensing Attorney," and Gaetano Valastro, a retired police detective who operated a gun store in Queens. Three others also pleaded guilty and are cooperating with authorities, Kim said. 

The men were scheduled to appear in court Tuesday. Chambers, who was released on $100,000 bond, declined to comment. His lawyer, Barry Slotnick said his client intends to fight the charges, saying, "My client has done nothing wrong."

To contact the reporter on this story: Patricia Hurtado in Federal Court in Manhattan at pathurtado@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editors responsible for this story: David Glovin at dglovin@bloomberg.net, Joe Schneider, Paul Cox

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

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