3 officers accused of extortion Two police veterans and a probation worker were indicted on charges involving gun permits and false records.

Posted: August 02, 2001

Two former Philadelphia police officers and a former probation officer were accused of extortion yesterday for allegedly taking cash to help felons get gun permits and putting drunk drivers back on the roads without court-ordered treatment.

The two federal indictments were announced at a Center City news conference where federal and city authorities denounced the officers for betraying their oaths and endangering the public.

Gary Robinson, 47, a former probation officer, was indicted on 21 counts of extortion involving amounts ranging from $20 to $100 that he allegedly took from people charged with drunken driving to falsely certify they completed court-ordered alcohol-treatment programs.

The former police officers - Artina Sterling, 44, and Evelyn Grant, 52 - were indicted together on charges of conspiracy to extort. Sterling also was indicted on one count of receiving stolen property after allegedly agreeing to fence about $5,000 worth of stolen jewelry.

"We've all been working very hard . . . to get guns off the street," U.S. Attorney Michael L. Levy said. "So it's really shocking when two police officers are selling gun permits to people who they believe had prior records."

Levy said guns are involved in 80 percent of all city murders.

"I will make a personal plea to the judge in this case to impose the harshest sentence possible," said Philadelphia Police Commissioner John F. Timoney, who described the alleged conduct of the police veterans caught in an FBI sting as "beyond belief."

In both probes, however, authorities said the alleged criminal conduct did not extend beyond the three defendants.

"We're convinced the problem is not institutionalized and equally convinced that it does not represent the conduct of the Probation Department's 225 probation officers," said Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge John W. Herron, administrative judge for the city courts, for which probation officers work.

Timoney, nevertheless, said he would conduct an administrative review of the six-officer gun-permit unit to see if changes are needed.

All three defendants appeared yesterday before a federal magistrate judge, entered pleas of not guilty, and were released after signing an unsecured $10,000 bond.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles B. Smith seemed stunned when he learned the service records of the three: "You're making a good salary and you're still trying to make a buck on the side. I don't understand people."

Officials said Grant, formerly an aide to a police deputy commissioner, joined the department in 1982 and has been with the gun-permit unit since 1998. Sterling, a 16-year veteran, joined the gun-permit unit in 1995. Both resigned from the department before indictment.

Robinson became a probation officer in 1982 and resigned in March 1999 after being confronted by city investigators.

During yesterday's hearing, Smith noted that Robinson had admitted having a heroin habit.

Robinson and Sterling could not be reached because they were being processed by authorities; Robinson was arrested by the FBI yesterday morning, and Sterling surrendered to that agency.

Joseph P. Capone, Grant's attorney, called the charges "overstated" and said neither Grant nor Sterling issued firearm permits to any actual felons.

"What we have here is a situation in which the undercover agents enamored themselves with these two vulnerable women," Capone added.

The indictment alleges that the two officers met with undercover agents between May 25 and Oct. 3, 2000. Though the agents posed as convicted felons - who are prohibited from owning firearms - the indictment alleges the officers expedited approval of gun permits for cash.

Sterling allegedly accepted $1,100 for issuing two gun permits and doing a criminal-history check. Grant allegedly accepted $400 for a gun permit.

Prosecutor Levy declined to comment on why the FBI began an undercover sting involving the two officers.

In Robinson's case, the indictment alleges he extorted a total of $1,310 between November 1997 and March 1999.

District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham said the Robinson probe began after a probationer told his lawyer Robinson "was trying to shake me down." The lawyer contacted her office, Abraham said.

Abraham said two people who allegedly paid cash to Robinson were later rearrested for drunken driving or for causing an accident.

Joseph A. Slobodzian's e-mail address is jslobodzian@phillynews.com.

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