Two NYPD cops conspired with a retired detective to “corner the market” on crooked pistol permits issued in New York City — because the bribes of booze, strippers and hookers they were getting weren’t enough, the feds charged Tuesday.
Former police Lt. Paul Dean and ex-cop Robert Espinel — both identified as suspects by The Post last year — allegedly took the payoffs in exchange for hard-to-obtain pistol permits from the NYPD License Division, where both worked at the time.
Some of the bribes came from NYPD detective-turned-gun store owner Gaetano “Guy” Valastro, who “expedited” permits for customers of his former shop in Queens, a Manhattan federal court complaint says.
But Dean and Espinel allegedly saw all the cash that was being made by the middlemen who helped applicants score gun licenses — including Valastro and Alex “Shaya” Lichtenstein, who pleaded guilty to bribery charges last year — and decided they wanted in on the action.
They’re accused of trying to shake down both Lichtenstein and Queens gun-store owner Frank Soohoo for $500 per application before opting to retire in 2016 and go into business with Valastro as permit “expediters,” court papers say.
The plan was to “corner the expediting market” by using their connections to pay bribes to cops in the License Division, where Dean had been the No. 2 in charge, according to the feds.
“I’m done watching people make money off of my back,” Dean allegedly told Lichtenstein during a conversation Lichtenstein recorded.
Dean, 44, and Espinel, 47, were both charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit bribery and one count of extortion.
Valastro, 58, was charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit bribery and one count of making false statements for allegedly lying during an Oct. 20 interview with federal prosecutors, FBI agents and a sergeant from the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau.
In addition to recordings made by Lichtenstein, which the FBI seized, the evidence against the defendants includes testimony from Soohoo and former NYPD cops David Villanueva and Richard Ochetal, who are all cooperating with the feds in bids for leniency, court papers say.
Acting Manhattan US Attorney Joon Kim said widespread corruption in the License Division “spawned a cottage industry of bribers masquerading as expediters.”
More than 100 pistol permits were issued illegally, including several to law-breakers who never should have gotten them, Kim said in announcing the arrests.
One license went to a man with 10 moving violations and four domestic-violence complaints, including a threat to kill, while “another person who got a license had prior convictions for criminal possession of a weapon and assault with intent to cause injury,” Kim said.
In another shady incident, a permit-holder was busted “for brandishing a gun during an assault,” only to have his license “returned to him by Officer Espinel, allegedly in exchange for bribes,” Kim said.
“That person then went on to get arrested again for another assault using a hammer,” he added.
NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said a total of 440 permits were flagged as “suspicious” during the course of a sweeping investigation. with 100 suspended as a result.
“We’ve replaced all the supervisory staff and we increased supervision” in the License Division, O’Neill added.
Tuesday’s complaint includes allegations that Soohoo hosted two parties at his store in 2015 that were attended by Dean, Espinel, Villanueva and Ochetcal.
In addition to supplying “free food and alcohol,” Soohoo arranged for “dancers and prostitutes to attend,” with all the amenities provided “at Dean’s request,” court papers say.
Dean and Espinel were also allegedly treated to “thousands of dollars of services” at a strip club in Queens that were paid for by Brooklyn bakery owner who had been approved for a pistol permit.
The alleged sexcapades pending corruption allegations lodged last year against disgraced ex-NYPD Deputy Inspector James Grant accused of romping with a hooker during an all-expenses-paid trip to Las Vegas in 2013.
The hooker later revealed herself to The Post as Gabi Grecko, who said she wore a skimpy flight attendant outfit to service Grant, ex-Detective Michael Milici and three other men during a wild private-plane trip over the American heartland.
Dean, Espinel and Valastro were all released on bond after appearing in Manhattan federal court, with Espinel wiping tears from his eyes while leaning against a wall outside the courtroom.