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Corruption probe of NYPD officers reveals 'unabashedly racist' texts, officials say

Heather Busch, Robert Hassett and Robert Smith were all arrested on charges of bribery and drug trafficking.
NYPD's units patrol 59th Street before the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on Nov. 26, 2015, in New York.
Two NYPD officers and a retired officer have pleaded not guilty to charges in a nine-count indictment, including drug trafficking. Scott Roth / Invision/AP file

Two NYPD officers and a retired colleague were arrested and charged in connection to a corruption probe, with one of the accused being singled out for using "unabashedly racist and hate-filled language," federal authorities said Tuesday.

Heather Busch, 34, and Robert Hassett, 36, from the 105th Precinct in Queens, and Robert Smith, who retired in March last year, were named in a nine-count indictment that included charges of using interstate facilities to commit bribery, violations of the Travel Act and drug trafficking.

Messages left for attorneys of all three defendants seeking comment were not immediately returned on Wednesday. All three defendants have pleaded not guilty.

Smith, 44, was particularly brazen in his corruption and regularly dropped racial slurs, prosecutors said. After retiring, he allegedly wrote a text message about how much he enjoyed pulling guns on Black people.

"Bro, I point my gun out the window now at (N-words) and watch their reaction and drive away. Hilarious," Smith wrote, according to a government memo opposing bail for Smith.

Retirement had only increased the former officer's penchant for expressing racial hate, prosecutors said.

"Smith's unabashedly racist and hate-filled language in his communications included regular references to Black people as 'n-----s' and numerous references to the Ku lux Klan, including one — just after retirement — in which he wrote, 'Now the real [S]mith will shine. I even shaved my head. Klan,'" the government added.

Smith was ordered into custody until a bail hearing on Friday, while Busch and Hassett were released after posting $200,000 bonds. Busch and Hassett were suspended without pay, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea announced.

“There is zero tolerance in the NYPD for corruption of any kind," Shea said in a statement Tuesday. "Wherever it is alleged, our NYPD investigators, with our partners in the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York, work tirelessly to ensure it is punished to the fullest extent of the law.”

“As alleged, the defendants shamelessly violated their oaths of office and the public trust by trading their badges for cash payments,” acting U.S. Attorney Mark J. Lesko said in a statement.

In September 2016, Smith and Hassett allegedly hatched a yearslong "corrupt scheme" to steer cars involved in accidents that drew an NYPD response to an unidentified tow truck company, so they could receive "thousands of dollars in cash bribe payments," according to the indictment.

The pair recruited Busch last year and she "received a key to a mailbox where she could retrieve her cash bribe payments," the indictment said.

After bringing Busch into the scheme, Smith allegedly pressured the tow company to introduce him to drug traffickers.

"I lived up to my end of the deal putting you onto heather. Now it's your turn," Smith allegedly texted his tow truck contact.

Smith made at least one delivery, a kilogram of heroin, on July 9 last year and was paid $1,200 cash, the indictment said.

“Behavior like the type alleged today is a disgrace," according to a statement by FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. "It erodes public trust in law enforcement and tarnishes the reputations of the many thousands of officers who honorably serve our communities on a daily basis."