Five current and former District of Columbia policemen were arrested yesterday for allegedly playing roles in an elaborate, nationwide con game in which unsuspecting professional people were lured into exchanging large sums of their money for what they believed would be even greater amounts of tainted Mafia money.
The alleged con game would end with a phony arrest and "confiscation" of a victim's money by some of the policemen, according to an arrest affidavit filed in U.S District Court here yesterday.
The ring preyed on doctors and other successful businessmen from around the country, enticed them to Washington for purported money exchanges and then swindled them out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to law enforcement sources. Authorities believe the group has pulled the scheme here at least three or four times a year since 1975.
Law enforcement sources and the affidavit provided the following details of the alleged scheme:
The con game involved rank-and-file policemen who, in at least one incident, wore SWAT-like District of Columbia police uniforms and used a marked city police cruiser to stage an "arrest" at Union Station.
The policemen were paid about $2,500 each per incident from the victim's money and used it to pay off small loans from financial institutions, and in the case of one former policeman, to buy a cabin cruiser.
A number of victims have been traced to residences in New York state and Florida. One physician in Florida fell for variations of the scheme three or four times.
Wealthy professional people, and sometimes drug dealers, were selected because they could afford the loss and would be reluctant to report their roles in a possibly illicit activity.
Victims usually were told they could exchange their money for money the Mafia was anxious to unload at a ratio of three to one, or four to one.
Alleged ring members frequently took victims to Union Station where a purported go-between would quickly show them a suitcase full of money. Often this amounted to stacks of one-dollar bills with a larger bill on top. While the "go-between" was counting the victim's money, accomplices dressed in police uniforms would suddenly appear, "arrest" the go-between and take away all the money.
The victim left thankful that he too was not arrested. In some instances an alleged ring member would call the victim later, faking an Italian accent, and accuse the victim of "running his mouth" to someone and thus foiling the ostensible exchange.
The five current and former officers thus far arrested, including several men with families and one ex-officer whod is collecting disability pay, were fingerprinted and photographed at police headquarters yesterday and then escorted to a magistrate's hearing at U.S. District Court here and in Alexandria, where they were formally charged with violating federal conspiracy laws.
Victor Schnur, 33, of 6531 Livingston Rd., Apt. 201, Oxon Hill. He was a 10-year veteran who retired on disability last October after a prisoner smashed his hand with a cell door. His attorney told the court yesterday that he collects $932 a month in disability pay, and is the sole support of an 11-year-old daughter. He also sells foreign cars for a Marlow Heights dealer ship, law enforcement sources said.
Gary L. Richardson, 27, of 7200 Marywood St. Hyattsville. He has been on the police force since 1972.
Grayling M. Cockrell, 28, of 2620 Kenton Pl., Hillcrest Heights. He resigned from the department last July after eight years duty. He is married, the father of two children and is employed as a painter's helper at Pepco.
Vincent C. Shirley, 29, of 8506 Nightingale Dr., Lanham, a nine-year veteran of the police force, and still on active duty.
Alfred Jerry Kish, 36, of 1016 Lindsay Rd., Oxon Hill, a one-time restaurant manager who has a wife and two children. He has never been with the police department.
U.S. Magistrate Lawrence Margolis released Schnur, Richardson, Cockrell and Shirley on personal recognizance and set bond for Kish at $5,000. All pleaded that they had little or no assets and were assigned court-appointed attorneys.
Also arrested yesterday was Printes A. (Junior) Blevins Jr., 33, of 5148 Linette La., Annandale, a District policeman for four years until his resignation in 1972. He was arrested at his home yesterday and held on $150,000 bond in magistrate's court in Alexandria.
The affidavit asserts that Blevins is a "lieutenant" in the conspiracy who recruited current and former policemen as accomplices.
Police and FBI also have obtained arrest warrants for Sherwin I. (Jerry) Lisner, 45, of Las Vegas, the alleged ring leader, according to the affidavit, and Leslie D. Helterbran of Cinnaminson, N.J. As of late last night they had not been arrested.
Helterbran, also described in the affidavit as a lieutenant to Lisner, was a District policeman for five years until he resigned in 1972.
Lisner was identified as Blevin's brother-in-law.
All eight named in the arrest warrants and affidavit are charged with a conspiracy count that alleges bribery of public officials and inducing people to travel in interstate commerce to defraud them of more than $5,000.If convicted they face a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment and a $10,000 fine.
Prosecutors said a grand jury is hearing evidence on the alleged scheme, and that additional charges could be lodged. Preliminary hearings were set for June 15.
All five current or former policemen arrested either are or were assigned as patrolmen to the 1st Police District, an area that includes Capitol Hill and much of downtown Washington.
The police department's internal affairs division began investigating the alleged ring last August, after receiving a tip from a man claiming tobe a former ring member who had been convicted of a narcotics charge in Virginia. The FBI joined the investigation in October.