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Big headache over a box of aspirins

March 26, 2004

A key player in the alleged downgrading of crimes in the 50th Precinct has come forward to tell how and why she forged the name of a complainant. Lt. Bridget Banuchi, speaking through Tony Garvey of the Lieutenant's Benevolent Association, provided the first indications of underreporting of crimes in the Bronx precinct.

Patrolmen's Benevolent Association president Patrick Lynch said earlier this week that precinct commanders throughout the city regularly downgrade crimes from felonies to misdemeanors because of department pressure to show a lower crime rate.

Garvey said Banuchi responded to a Genovese drug store on Nov 4, 2002, where a stock clerk and manager reported the attempted theft of a large box of aspirins. Banuchi put the value of the aspirins at $9 a bottle for a total of $600, and directed two officers in a radio patrol car to take the complaint, known as a "61."

Two hours later for reasons that are not clear, Banuchi returned to the Genovese store, Garvey said. Also for reasons that are not clear, the officers Banuchi had told to file the complaint had not done so.Instead, another officer, Maureen Morgan, was at the store taking information on the attempted theft from another store manager, Devin Bodkin.

According to Bodkin, who this reporter interviewed in July 2003, the value of the attempted theft was $1,815 and included items from an overflowing shopping cart. But Banuchi refused to accept Bodkin's claim, Garvey said, and instead based her assessment of the theft on the box of aspirins she had observed two hours before. In addition, Garvey quoted Banuchi as saying that Genovese employees have "an agenda."

"If they can get enough crime, they can get a security guard," he quoted Banuchi as having told him.

Banuchi then returned to patrol, ordering Morgan to file a complaint, listing the theft at $600. Because the value of the items was under $1,000, the crime would be recorded as a misdemeanor and would not be included in the department's felony index crimes.

Morgan refused to file the report, Garvey said, wanting to input the amount supplied by Bodkin.When the desk sergeant notified Banuchi, she returned to the precinct station house, ripped up Morgan's report and wrote her own, signing Bodkin's name.

The next day, Garvey said, Banuchi acknowledged to Insp. Thomas DiRusso, the precinct commander, that she had forged Bodkin's signature. "She recognizes her mistake," Garvey said. "She was not suppressing crime. She gets nothing out of it. She was trying to ensure the accuracy of the crime reported. Her only mistake was forging Bodkin's signature."

DiRusso gave Banuchi a command discipline. She was later transferred to the borough command as the crime statistics lieutenant. She now works in the police academy. Meanwhile, Morgan was reassigned. When union delegate Joe Anthony protested, he was transferred out of the precinct, leading the PBA to file a lawsuit against the department for unfair labor practices.

In an interview with Newsday last year, Bodkin said that shortly after the incident occurred he complained at the precinct that his name had been forged. Garvey also produced a revised crime complaint form known as a "DD5." That complaint was dated Nov. 14, 2002, and came 10 days after DiRusso reinterviewed Bodkin and upgraded the crime to attempted grand larceny based on the $1,800 figure. "That shows DiRusso wasn't trying to underreport crimes," Garvey said.

Countdown [continued]: Exactly 10 months ago this week, Ousmane Zongo, an unarmed African immigrant, was shot to death by Officer Bryan Conroy during an undercover operation in a Chelsea warehouse. Barbara Thompson, a spokeswoman for Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, says the investigation is "continuing."

Seen and heard: Paul Browne calling allegations that commanders downgraded crimes "inventions," Mayor Michael Bloomberg calling them "outrageous."

Unseen and unheard: Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.

Seen: Former Police Commissioner Howard Safir at the retirement dinner of Office of Emergency Management honcho John Odermatt at El Caribe restaurant in Brooklyn.

Unseen: Kelly and Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta.

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© 2004 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.