By Jake Offenhartz
April 26, 2019
Prosecutors in two boroughs say they'll launch a review of possible false arrests made by Detective Joseph Franco, a veteran NYPD officer who allegedly framed multiple New Yorkers on bogus drug charges.
The 46-year-old Franco was arrested this week and charged with perjury, offering a false instrument for filing, and official misconduct. According to Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, Franco arrested three people in the last two years for drug deals that never happened, then repeatedly lied on the witness stand about what he'd observed.
In one case, Franco testified that he'd seen a woman selling crack outside her Lower East Side apartment building in 2017. The woman spent a year and a half in prison before she was released this past November, after security camera footage disproved the officer's account.
Franco was placed on desk duty in February, and has since been suspended by the NYPD without pay. Records show he made more than $143,000 last year. He was released by a judge without bail on Wednesday.
In a press release, the Manhattan D.A.’s office touted its commitment to “aggressively investigate and prosecute corruption and misconduct by uniformed officers." A statement attributed to Police Commissioner James O'Neill claimed that officers who do not meet "the highest ethical standards...must be held accountable."
But the issue of “testilying” has proven a consistent problem at the NYPD, with officers typically facing little, if any, discipline when caught. Since 2010, the police department’s Internal Affairs Bureau has refused to uphold more than 97 percent of cases in which the Civilian Complaint Review Board has found an officer not telling the truth. Last year, a months-long investigation by the Times found that “the department’s reluctance to investigate and discipline officers for lying…appears to be as much of a problem as the initial lies.”
Thus far, the Manhattan D.A. has vacated convictions for three people believed to have been falsely arrested by Franco—each of whom had pled guilty to charges brought by Vance. His office is looking at two additional cases.
But both public defenders and community advocates argue that Franco—whose 19 year career included stints in the Bronx as well as Manhattan—likely played a role in hundreds of arrests, each of which should now be scrutinized by prosecutors and the NYPD.
"It should not be lost on us that the disgraced detective has framed at least three individuals that we know of, and more significantly, that those individuals pled guilty to crimes that they absolutely did not commit," said Tina Luongo, Attorney-In-Charge of the Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society. "We demand that the Manhattan and Bronx District Attorneys conduct an immediate and thorough investigation of every case involving Detective Franco for misconduct. This behavior must not be tolerated."
In response to Gothamist's inquiries, a spokesperson for Bronx D.A. Darcel Clark said that the borough's Public Integrity Bureau would launch a review of his arrests "after the case plays out in court." It's believed that Franco worked out of the Bronx from 2001 to 2003.
Asked whether the Manhattan D.A.'s office planned to do the same, spokesperson Justin Henry told Gothamist: "We already are." The spokesperson declined to answer follow up questions about the timeline for Vance's review, how many cases had been opened, and whether the office's Conviction Integrity Program was involved.
There is so much that could be said about this. 19 years! It’s more than likely that Franco framed people earlier his career in order to get the arrests to make detective. @ManhattanDA & @BronxDAClark must look into all of his previous arrests! It’s never too late for justice.
"Once a bad cop, always a bad cop," Lee added. "There are no such things as isolated incidents with this. An officer who is doing this affects the whole community and it should be addressed with this in mind. There are likely people upstate, people in prison, from this cop's lies."
Asked whether the NYPD intended to review past arrests made by Franco, Sergeant Jessica McRorie, a police spokesperson, told Gothamist: "This is an ongoing criminal prosecution. It would not be appropriate for us to comment about an ongoing investigation."