In 1970 the Knapp Commission investigated wide-spread corruption in the New York Police Department, and Michael Armstrong takes a look back at its work in his new book They Wished They Were Honest as reported by Sam Roberts for The New York Times:
Mr. Armstrong, a criminal lawyer, was counsel to the Knapp Commission and is now the chairman of the city’s Commission to Combat Police Corruption. At the time of the Knapp Commission, he recalls, Sydney C. Cooper, a police commander, was quoted as saying that the police brass "used to sit around discussing corruption with all the enthusiasm of a bunch of little old ladies talking about venereal disease."
The $64,000 question, of course, is whether rampant corruption still pervades law enforcement in the Big Apple.
One of the red flags of possible police corruption to investigators at the time of the Knapp Commission were the the numerous gay bars -- many presumably mobbed-up -- which openly flouted the time for last call. Armstrong writes:
They [the investigators] had been focusing their attention on the West Village gay bars whose flamboyant after-hours activities seemingly should have attracted the attention of the area’s police. The area was one of warehouses and garages, and nestled among them were a number of after-hours bars and homosexual prostitution hangouts, operating loudly and openly well past legal closing time.
More than forty years later the mob still is in a few gay bars according to some sources, and other gay establishments seemingly are engaged in naughty behavior all to which the NYPD, the NYDA and other law enforcement agencies apparently are turning a blind eye.
Of course, such claims should not be startling. The Mafia once enjoyed near-monopoly control over gay bars in New York City, and even as late as 1985 reputed capo Matthew "Matty the Horse" Ianniello was convicted with several associates for skimming profits out of several bars including the tranny bar Gilded Grape and the hustler bar Hay Market.
One former barback of a currently-operating downtown gay bar claims that the place is run by the mob, and although only nineteen years old at the time of his under-the-table employment allegedly was allowed to guzzle all the alcohol he could at a discounted $1 a drink. A freelance writer who was working on an ultimately-killed story for a major online gay news site interviewed a bartender at that same establishment who reportedly acknowledged a "rumor" about Mafia control but was "too afraid" to ask about it.
And a former manager of a currently-operating uptown gay bar alleges that the establishment at which he worked – plus another one nearby – is run by "wise guys." A bartender at that same uptown joint even once identified an alleged mobster who from time-to-time made an appearance, and although married with children the purported wise guy apparently has a little sugar in his tank and is known to sample the merchandise.
A number of gay establishments seemingly are acting as prohibited commercial sex venues under the cover of legitimate operations. These businesses have articles of incorporation with the New York Secretary of State representing that they were formed only for lawful purposes, and yet their operations behind closed doors may belie this representation which arguably could constitute filing a false instrument in violation of Penal Law section 175.30. Moreover, funneling proceeds generated from commercial sex venues through purportedly lawful corporations perhaps could be considered as money laundering in violation of Penal Law section 470.05 which prohibits, among other things, engaging in transactions designed to "conceal or disguise the nature . . . of the proceeds of criminal conduct." Indeed, a case could be argued that such a business model if in fact true may amount to enterprise corruption under Penal Law 460 which is New York's version of the racketeering law.
The failure of law enforcement to act on gay bars which allegedly are Mafia-infiltrated or gay businesses which may be in violation of the law is seemingly inexplicable.
Frank Serpico, the NYPD detective who blew the whistle on police corruption which sparked the Knapp Commission, says the problem still persists as reported by WNYC: "'In my time no, not every policeman was corrupt,' he said. 'But those that were corrupt were the ones that ran the show. And that's the way it works today.'"
Indeed, just last month, "three former detectives and a current one have filed lawsuits alleging that they were harassed for reporting corruption" within the NYPD as reported by New York Magazine. These lawsuits "and interviews with several officers who have called Internal Affairs to report their colleagues, seem to provide ample evidence that the anti-snitching culture in the Police Department remains virulent" as reported by Joseph Goldstein for The New York Times.
Maybe it’s all the same as it ever was.