Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice held a press conference last Tuesday to announce that a former New York City Police Officer has been arrested for selling weapons he allegedly stole from the evidence room of his Queens-based NYPD Precinct. In addition to the arrest of ex-cop Hubertus "Dutch" Vannes on weapons charges, the District Attorney's Office has arrested his alleged co-conspirator, Anthony Vitta, 44, of East Meadow, and charged the duo with selling powerful painkillers obtained illegally from an East Meadow pharmacy. The pharmacy's owner, Howard Brass, 48, of North Bellmore, has also been arrested and charged with selling the drugs, defrauding an insurance company and falsifying the pharmacy's business records to conceal the deals.
"This trio, responsible for polluting our neighborhoods with highly addictive painkillers, and our streets with dangerous handguns, must and will be held accountable," said Rice. "Vannes has tarnished the name of his honest colleagues and he has placed our community in danger. For his crimes, Dutch Vannes will face decades in prison if convicted."
Rice said that investigation began in February of this year when Nassau County Police Department 1st Precinct officers received a tip on a possible gun and prescription drug dealer operating out of East Meadow. Undercover officers moved quickly and were soon able to purchase two handguns - a Glock .9mm and a Smith & Wesson .38 caliber revolver - from Anthony Vitta, according to Rice. The ensuing investigation led detectives from the DA's Squad to Hubertus Vannes, 30, of Roslyn Heights. Hubertus Vannes is a former NYPD cop who worked in the 110th Precinct in Queens. Rice said that the guns purchased from Vitta were later confirmed to be missing from the bureau. In addition, upon the execution of a search warrant on Vitta's home, detectives recovered an additional .38 caliber revolver that was reported missing from his former precinct's property bureau.
Hubertus Vannes resigned from the police department earlier this year.
During the course of the investigation into the gun sales, detectives also learned that Vitta and Hubertus Vannes were selling prescription drugs, according to Rice. On 11 separate occasions, said Rice, detectives observed Vitta selling powerful painkillers, including Vicodin, Oxycodone and Percocet, outside of his East Meadow home. Hubertus Vannes was stopped for a traffic violation on Nov. 13, and according to the DA, in plain view the officers observed a number of Vicodin pills. He did not have a valid driver's license and was arrested. A search subsequent to arrest uncovered an additional 60 pills in the defendant's pocket all packaged for re-sale and an additional 19 envelopes used to package the pills. The defendant, according to Rice, did not have a prescription for these pills. In total the defendant had 76 Vicodin tablets and $2,000 cash.
The ensuing investigation into the drug sales led detectives to Meadow Drugs, which is owned and operated by Howard Brass. Rice said that detectives have uncovered evidence alleging that Vitta and Brass set up an elaborate scheme involving the creation of fictitious patient names and the dispensing of hundreds of thousands of dollars of prescription drugs to Vitta through the non-existent patients. According to the DA, the defendants set up fake patients because authorities and auditors would have noticed the extraordinarily high quantity of drugs if they were going to a single person for personal use. In addition, Rice said that the investigation led detectives to the pair's use of phony prescriptions written out by a doctor who has been dead since February 2004.
The DA stated that Brass was also charging an insurance company for drugs never even received by his pharmacy. Rice said he would put through a monthly claim, under Vitta's name, for AIDS drugs (close to $20,000 a month) that Meadow Drugs is not even licensed to dispense. The insurance company paid out close to $800,000 to the pharmacy.
Rice also said that on July 26, 2007, Brass reported to the police that a burglary had taken place overnight at his pharmacy. Allegedly stolen during the burglary was a large bottle of Hydrocodone pills. Brass told authorities investigating the burglary that he had failed to turn on the rear security camera that evening and that there existed no videotape of the alleged event. No arrests have been made and authorities have nothing to corroborate Brass' claim. Rice said that pharmacies operating illegal prescription drug distribution networks often report burglaries in the hopes of balancing inconsistent and non-existent inventory and sales.
Hubertus Vannes has been charged with three counts of criminal sale of a firearm - 3rd degree and criminal possession of a controlled substance - 4th and 5th degree. He was arraigned last week in Nassau County District Court by Judge Robert Spergel who set bail at $50,000 bond or $25,000 cash. The defendant faces a maximum of 26 1/2 years in prison if convicted of the charges.
Brass has been charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance - 3rd degree; grand larceny - 2nd degree; insurance fraud - 2nd degree; and two counts of falsifying business records - 1st degree. He was arraigned in First District Court, Hempstead, on Nov. 17. Nassau County District Court Judge Anna Anzalone set Brass' bail at $50,000 cash or bond. He was ordered to return to court Dec. 5. Brass faces a maximum of 39 years in prison if convicted of the charges.
On Nov. 14, a search warrant executed at the home and business of Anthony Vitta resulted in the seizure of 11 fully-loaded guns, more than 1,850 Vicodin pills, prescription pads and $37,275 in cash. Vitta has been charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance - 3rd and 4th degrees; criminal sale of a controlled substance - 3rd and 4th degrees; and two counts of criminal sale of a firearm - 3rd degree. He was arraigned in First District Court, Thursday, Nov. 15. Nassau County District Court Judge Howard Miller released the defendant on the condition that he be monitored by the Department of Probation while the case is pending. He was ordered to return to court Dec. 7. Vitta faces a maximum of 43 years in prison if convicted of the charges.
Handling the cases for the District Attorney's Office is Assistant District Attorney Anne T. Donnelly of the DA's Rackets Bureau. Representing Brass is Joseph Ferri, Esq. Vitta is being represented by Paul Margiotta, Esq. Representing Vannes is Eric Bernstein, Esq.
District Attorney Rice was joined at last Tuesday's press conference by John McColdrick from the New York State Department of Education's Office of Professional Discipline; Assistant District Attorney and Bureau Chief of the DA's Rackets Bureau Rick Whelan; Detective/Lieutenant Gregory Detwiller, commanding officer of the District Attorney's Squad; and Nassau County Police Department Inspector Jay Caputo.
Rice thanks the United States Drug Enforcement Agency and the New York State Department of Education's Office of Professional Discipline for their assistance in the investigation.
The charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.