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Corruption case shines light on NYPD

By Tom Hays

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, April 22 2012 12:30 p.m. MDT

NEW YORK — NYPD badges out, Kelvin Jones and the other armed men turned up out of nowhere at a New Jersey warehouse and began barking orders.

Jones told startled workers that the New York Police Department had sent the team there to inspect for counterfeit goods — even though the wholesale dealer of Prada, Versace and other fragrances was legitimate.

The men herded about a dozen employees into a tiny back office and tied them up. By then, it was obvious something was amiss.

"We were kind of shocked," one worker recalled. "We were like, why is the NYPD coming in here like this?"

Another blurted: "You're not cops."

But Jones was indeed an NYPD officer. In fact, he had held an elite undercover position.

Two with him were also part of the NYPD. A third was a former officer. But these were hardly "New York's Finest."

What they'd set up to look like a police raid was instead a brazen, $1 million robbery.

Eventually, the 30-year-old Jones would face trial. And his case, though largely overlooked, isn't isolated. In the past two years, prosecutors have accused officers of planting evidence in drug investigations, of running illegal guns, of robbing drug dealers, of routinely fixing traffic tickets as favors.

Still, Jones stands out because of his background as an undercover operative for the NYPD's Intelligence Division. The department credits the unit with thwarting numerous terror and other threats against New Yorkers.

Recent stories by The Associated Press have detailed how the unit also sought to infiltrate and monitor mosques, Muslim student organizations and left-wing political organizations — even beyond city limits — using methods that critics say infringe on civil rights, though the department denies it.

How Jones became an undercover and the exact nature of his assignment weren't made public at his trial in Newark in 2010, and police officials won't discuss it. But court documents offer hints: They show the NYPD authorized the Caribbean-born Jones to use the aliases Michael Kingston and Kelvin Johns. And in a handwritten journal, he made cryptic references to assignments in cities far from New York.

That was before he was demoted to ordinary patrol — a transfer that still gave him access to an internal police database he used to help hatch the warehouse holdup.

Jones "abused his authority for his own personal gain," Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Gramiccioni told jurors. "Instead of protecting and serving the citizens, he decided to rob them and hold them hostage."

While not commenting directly on Jones, the NYPD insists it carefully vets candidates for undercover work, especially those assigned to Intelligence Division. Some are chosen because they speak Arabic or other languages needed to make their undercover roles convincing, or because they've demonstrated a mental toughness needed to withstand the rigors of leading a double life.

Jones' demeanor would have made him a good choice, said his attorney, Michael Orozco.

"For that kind of work," Orozco said, "you'd obviously want to have someone who's cool, calm and collected — and that's him."

But a rambling journal entry addressing his girlfriend reveals that the duality was difficult for Jones.

"I never told you I was cop," he wrote, "because I was in too DEEP."

Back in 2003, Kelvin Jones was listed in the media guide for the Southeast Missouri Redhawks as a 6-foot, 210-pound linebacker, a "hard hitter" with "a good nose for the football."

Originally from the island of Grenada, Jones had grown up in Brooklyn, the son of a contractor and a dietitian.

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