A former Brooklyn prosecutor was found guilty in Manhattan federal court Tuesday for his role in a police gun licensing scandal that stretched all the way to the office of Mayor Bill de Blasio.
John Chambers, who at one point served in the Kings County District Attorney’s Office, was convicted of bribery, honest services fraud and conspiracy to commit honest services fraud after a week-long trial before U.S. District Judge William Pauley III of the Southern District of New York.
Chambers marketed himself to clients as a top firearms licensing attorney in the city. From 2010 to 2015, Chambers bribed NYPD Sgt. David Villanueva, the former supervisor of the department’s gun license division, in exchange for help with his clients, prosecutors alleged.
“John Chambers, a former prosecutor, called himself a gun license ‘expediter.’ What a unanimous jury concluded today was that his expediting amounted to little more than bribing his contacts in the NYPD’s License Division,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman of the Southern District of New York said in a statement. “The willingness of John Chambers to corrupt the gun License Division for his own benefit exposed the people of New York to unnecessary danger.”
Chambers paid Villanueva off with tickets to sporting and entertainment events, free meals, a $8,500 wrist watch and over $2,000 in cash, among other bribes, prosecutors said.
In exchange, Villanueva used the power of his position to the benefit of Chambers’ clients. When Chambers’ clients were subject to investigations over domestic incidents, accidental firearm discharges, or other situations that could have resulted in the suspension or revocation of their license, the investigations would close quicker, with better outcomes—even if the appropriate result should have been the loss of the license, prosecutors argued. Even when suspensions occurred, Villanueva would make sure they were shorter. Renewals were expedited. Upgrades to full concealed-carry licenses would go through without the proper papers to justify the action.
Gallet Dreyer & Berkey partner Roger Stavis, Chambers’ trial counsel, described the trial as being “very hard-fought” but with a verdict he and his client were “obviously disappointed in.”
“We look forward to taking the case up on appeal,” he said.
Chambers’ trial is part of a larger set of arrests connected to bribery at the NYPD gun permit licensing division that stretches from the Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn to de Blasio. Villanueva, another former member of the police department, an Orthodox volunteer safety patrol member and a gun store owner were arrested for their parts in the broader scheme in June 2016. Some of those defendants have pleaded guilty, including Villanueva, who testified for the government against Chambers.
They’re just a few of the people arrested in the sprawling corruption situation that includes other former police department officials, as well as a former fundraiser for the mayor, Jona Rechnitz, who’s pleaded guilty to related charges and served as a cooperating witness for the government in other cases.