- Associated Press - Monday, March 24, 2014

CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (AP) - A suburban New York police sergeant was targeting Hispanic motorists for robbery while on patrol, grabbing $50 or $100 cash at a time from victims for at least four years before being caught in January, a prosecutor said Monday.

Scott Greene, who retired earlier this year from the Suffolk County Police Department, pleaded not guilty to a 21-count grand jury indictment charging him with grand larceny as a hate crime, official misconduct and other charges. Defense attorney Tim Mazzei declined to comment to reporters following the arraignment.

Greene, who was caught following an undercover sting, was released without bail and fled the courthouse without speaking to reporters.

Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said at a news conference that 22 people had come forward following Greene’s January arrest to say they had been victims of the scheme. Spota said six of those were able to positively identify Greene from a photo array of possible suspects.

The prosecutor said his office has applied for a court order requiring Greene to appear in a police lineup, where other possible victims would be given a chance to identify their assailant. The status of that request was not immediately known.

“He clearly was targeting Hispanics whom he knew were prone to carry cash and would be more than others unlikely to report to police that money was stolen for fear of either retribution or perhaps concern over their immigration status,” Spota said.

The charges come just months after the police department reached a tentative agreement with the U.S. Justice Department, which had been monitoring the suburban New York police force following the 2008 hate crime killing of an Ecuadorean immigrant.

The police department released a statement Monday saying it was working to build trust in every community, especially the Latino community.

“If there is any good that can come out of today’s developments, it is that the department wants the Latino community to know that when a complaint is received, it is treated seriously and it will be investigated fully,” the statement said.

Spota said his office’s investigation began nearly a year ago, when two Hispanic men came forward to report that they had been robbed by a uniformed officer on patrol in the Farmingville area. The victims were able to provide few details about the description of the officer, other than noting his police license plate, which indicated to detectives that the driver of that vehicle was a sergeant.

Investigators scoured records of sergeants in the precinct where the robbery allegedly occurred, eventually setting up a sting involving an undercover Hispanic officer driving a vehicle equipped with a network of surveillance cameras. Spota said the undercover officer was stopped by Greene the first time he drove past the officer’s cruiser.

The prosecutor said investigators from his office worked with liaisons in the Hispanic community to encourage victims to come forward. He said the investigation remains active and further charges are likely.

Spota added there is no evidence that any officer other than Greene was involved in the scheme. He said investigators were not releasing a mug shot of Greene to protect the integrity of the investigation.

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