NYPD officer
(Dave Hosford/Flickr)

A volunteer safety patrol member pleaded guilty to bribery charges in a scandal that has cast a dark cloud over New York City’s police department, admitting that he paid thousands of dollars to police officers to speed along gun permits.

An emotional Alex “Shaya” Lichtenstein, 44, of Pomona, New York, entered the plea to bribery charges in Manhattan federal court Thursday, saying he participated in the scam from 2013 to 2016, when he had “good and friendly relationships with New York City police officers.”

He got choked up and briefly paused as he admitted giving “things of value, including money” to officers in the department’s licensing division, which receives about 5,000 applications for gun licenses each year.

Lichtenstein agreed not to appeal any sentence between five and six years in prison, though he can argue that he deserves less or no time in prison at a sentencing proceeding scheduled for March 16.

The Southern District U.S. Attorney’s Office said they recorded the volunteer bragging about using bribes to get at least 150 licenses for people to carry guns. A federal prosecutor said at one court appearance that Lichtenstein was “no less than an arms dealer for the community.”

Prosecutors said Lichtenstein is a member of the Borough Park Shomrim, a volunteer Orthodox Jewish patrol society that seeks to fight crime and locate missing people.

The bribery scheme also has been cited in charges brought against two high-ranking NYPD commanders and two gun licensing division officers.

The bribes were covered by fees of $10,000 or more paid by clients who got their applications to carry a handgun approved in two months or less. Typically, applications can take up to a year to process. Sometimes, criminal histories were ignored.