John Campo, a narcotics officer in the Westchester County city of Mount Vernon, had just helped arrest a man for a quality of life violation, when, he said, the suspect gave him a strange request.
“He’s like, ‘Yo Campo, I got forty rocks in my pocket — take it out of my pocket and stash it somewhere,” the officer recalled in a phone call two and a half years ago with Murashea Bovell, a whistleblower cop who recorded the call.
Campo said he did not voucher the man’s forty rocks of crack cocaine to preserve as evidence. Instead, he claimed, he asked a detective for guidance. The detective told him to remove the contraband from the suspect’s pocket and “hide it,” Campo claimed.
“So I took the forty rocks of crack out of his pocket and put it in my sneaker,” he continued.
Police took the drug dealer to police headquarters, gave him a desk appearance ticket for the quality of life violation, and then released him, according to Campo.
Campo said he then “gave him his forty crack rocks back.” He said his supervisor, Sergeant Sean Fegan, commended him for his actions because the suspect was a valuable confidential informant for their narcotics unit.
“Fegan is like, ‘Yo did he have anything on him?’ [I’m] like ‘Ya.’” ‘Oh you stash it for him?’ ‘[I’m] like ‘Ya.’ ‘He said ‘All right, good,’” Campo recalled. “So you allowing dudes to sell crack with free rein because he’s giving you shit [information]?”
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Officer Campo’s claim that he personally safeguarded the drug dealer’s bundle of crack was made in one of several phone calls secretly recorded by Bovell between 2017 and this year. In that and another recording, Campo claimed that members of the department’s narcotics unit allowed favored drug dealers to sell with impunity, get deliveries, and control territory. In exchange, he said, the dealers, serving as confidential informants, gave them information leading to the arrests of their own low-level clients.
Campo did not respond to Gothamist/WNYC’s requests for comment. After Bovell told him he had shared the recordings with the DA’s office and encouraged him to talk to the media, Campo filed a report to the police department denying any knowledge of misconduct.
In a phone call, Sgt. Fegan vehemently denied Campo’s claims about the unit. “Nobody is allowed to sell drugs on the street in Mount Vernon,” he said.
The allegations are just the latest in a series of scandals that have rocked the troubled Westchester County city just north of the Bronx. Gothamist/WNYC revealed Bovell’s secret tapes earlier this month, reporting on allegations that Mount Vernon officers framed innocent residents on numerous occasions.
Between February of 2019 and 2020, the whistleblower says he gave numerous recordings to the Westchester County District Attorney in the hopes that they would investigate.
But — in new recordings of meetings with District Attorney’s officials provided by Bovell — a DA’s office investigator suggests that he didn’t reach out to Campo for months.
“There's not a bigger investigation that's been going on," Thomas Drake, the investigator, told Bovell and his attorney in the December 2019 meeting.
Drake declined comment, and the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office would not answer questions about the meeting or its conduct in the investigation.
“While transparency is important, it is more important that victims and witnesses feel safe enough to speak to us to fairly and completely conduct our investigation,” said District Attorney Anthony Scarpino. “ Any further discussion of this in the media will continue to jeopardize our investigation. This story in itself is putting our investigation at risk.”
Numerous public officials and activists have called on the state attorney general to take over the investigation of the Mount Vernon police tapes from Scarpino, who is up for re-election this year.
Mount Vernon Police Commissioner Glenn Scott said the department is reviewing all past allegations, “including any similar allegations made against Officer Bovell.”
“We will no longer accept apathy in investigations of both improper police actions and violent criminals in the community,” Scott said in a statement. “I simply ask that prosecutors also do their due diligence. The citizens of Mount Vernon must no longer be underserved.”
He would not disclose any further details of allegations against Bovell. Joseph Murray, Bovell’s attorney, said he and his client have lost faith in local authorities’ willingness to clean up the department. He said he has shared the tapes with the federal prosecutors from the Southern District of New York.
“My client has acted absolutely heroically by recording other officers who confirmed the brutality and corruption taking place in Mount Vernon,” he said. “Yet they’re not taking this seriously and they’re dragging him through the mud as if he did something wrong.”
Federal authorities declined to comment on the case. Currently, Campo and several officers accused of misconduct in the tapes remain on the force.
Campo Tapes Detail A Troubling Partnership With Favored Dealers
Bovell’s recorded conversations with Campo contain a range of allegations about the narcotics unit, from shakedowns, robberies, and beatings of residents to fabricated suspect identifications and evidence for search warrants.
Most of the calls took place in early 2018. In them, Campo says he was kicked out of the narcotics unit for a positive marijuana drug test. He complains that while he was being disciplined for the finding, his colleagues’ activities with local dealers were far worse.
“It’s ongoing, like they let certain drug dealers deal drugs just to get like little stuff, they’ll let certain guys take over the entire block and they’ll just let him sell and pick off little guys,” Campo explained in one call from February of 2018.
The officer alleged this soft touch applied to the man for whom he said he safeguarded crack. “They allow him to sell drugs with free rein, and they just pick off the guys he sells to,” he told Bovell in another call.
Scarpino, who is in the midst of a contentious primary challenge that goes to voters this month, has publicly dismissed the value of Bovell’s secret recordings, calling the allegations “hearsay” that could not be brought before a court of law.
But other experts say that Campo’s statement about safeguarding drugs could have been used as evidence for a prosecution or as leverage for a larger criminal probe.
“Campo is admitting to things that subject him to the possibility of criminal prosecution,” said Charles Linehan, a former Deputy Chief of Public Corruption at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. “I would love to have that kind of evidence to sit down and try to cooperate this guy, or try to flip him. And, you know, I’d be surprised if I wasn’t able to do that.”
The officer’s allegations echo those previously made in a 2015 lawsuit by Bovell. The whistleblower alleged that in 2013 he witnessed Sergeant Fegan and a detective named Camilo Antonini allow an informant to sell drugs freely in exchange for turning in his drug-user clients. Last year, Bovell filed another suit making similar allegations.
Current and former prosecutors interviewed by Gothamist/WNYC said narcotics operations involving confidential informants are supposed to work the opposite way. They say police are supposed to supervise informants as they buy drugs from dealers so they can arrest the dealers, not the buyers.
Damon Jones, a police reform activist and the publisher of Black Westchester Magazine, said the tapes suggest an endemic culture of corruption in the department.
“It erodes the trust and it erodes the accountability,” he said. “Who do they call if they need to be protected if their police department is working with the criminals in their community?”
Larry Krasner, the District Attorney of Philadelphia, who previously helped litigate a narcotics scandal in Philadelphia as a civil rights attorney, noted that such hand-in-glove tactics can give informants a dangerous sense of empowerment. “You cannot say certain criminals can commit certain crimes that they want as long as they help us, and expect anything but trouble,” he said.
The dealer who Campo claimed to have helped has not been convicted on drug charges since 2015, state court records show. But the man has racked up a string of convictions for choking, domestic violence, assault, contempt, and harassment, earning him several stints in prison and prompting courts to issue protection orders.
Over a year after Bovell gave the DA’s office the Campo tape, the man was charged again. He pleaded not guilty. (Gothamist/WNYC is not identifying the alleged informant to prevent retaliation against him.)
The Mount Vernon police department did not respond to questions about whether officers are supposed to work with informants with histories of domestic violence.
Lawrence Mottola, a former Brooklyn prosecutor, said police should be very cautious about using informants involved in domestic violence.“It’s natural to feel that you’re emboldened by this because you have the backing of the police and they’re going to help you if you get stuck in a situation,” he said. “It’s potentially very dangerous for everyone in that household or in that relationship. And domestic violence cases are already extremely dangerous.”
Campo’s Allegations Of Dubious Drug Arrests
In the tapes, Campo says police did not give all drug dealers preferential treatment. But when they did want to arrest dealers, he suggests they sometimes cut legal corners there, too. In one phone call, Campo refers to a suspected crack dealer, called “C-Dub,” who he believed police targeted despite a lack of clear evidence.
“They uncovered like thirty grams of crack, not on him. It was buried in like a plant thing on the block, and it probably wasn’t his,” he told Bovell, referring to two officers who he declined to name in the call. “They said it was because they wanted to arrest him because they had been trying to get him for months on Fourth Avenue.”
Police were under pressure from Sergeant Fegan, Campo continued, because they were getting complaints in the area but not making arrests there. In a phone call, Fegan declined to discuss the specific incident. “As complaints come in, we investigate them as they happen,” he said. “The results speak for themselves.”
Gothamist/WNYC found a man named Jonathan Long with a criminal history for selling drugs on Fourth Avenue in Mount Vernon who uses the street name “C-W.” Without being told of Campo’s claims in the tapes, Long, 51, volunteered details of a previous arrest that matched those of the dubious arrest described in the tapes.
He recalls standing in front of a Chinese restaurant on Fourth Avenue talking to two men in December of 2017, when a small smoke grey car with tinted windows pulled up. “Two detectives get out and walk up and tell me to put my hands up,” he said. “I asked them what was going on. They don’t talk to you. They just keep doing what they’re doing.”
Long said the officers grabbed him, patted him down and searched his mouth for drugs. When they didn’t find anything, he said, one of them turned to a flower bed in front of a restaurant. “He digged through the dirt, found two balls, and they locked me up and told me it was mine,” he said.
Police said the balls were filled with crack cocaine, Long said. But the longtime dealer refused to plead guilty. “I was not guilty of it because the crack was not mine,” he said. He said the case eventually fell apart.
Long was not surprised when he heard Campo describe what appears to have been the same arrest in the recording.
“I’ve been doing this for a minute, man,” he said. “I run the streets, sell drugs, get high, I’m used to what they do but what they do ain’t right. If you catch me doing it, I don’t care. But to frame me or do all this entrapment type of shit, I don’t like it.”
Bovell’s Secret Recordings of Meetings With The DA’s Office
Since Gothamist/WNYC first published parts of the Mount Vernon tapes earlier this month, defense attorneys have attacked Scarpino for his office’s failure to disclose the allegations to defendants. In response, Scarpino has argued that his office is still investigating the allegations and could not make disclosures based on “rumor.” The DA has also dismissed Bovell’s recordings as “uncorroborated information” and noted that no witnesses “have come forward” in the probe.
But secret recordings, recently provided by Bovell, suggest that the DA’s office delayed taking preliminary investigative steps for months— despite continuing to quietly prosecute cases based on the work of accused officers.
Bovell first mailed several of his recordings to the DA’s office on Valentine’s Day, 2019. Bovell says these included some of his conversations with Campo. But in a December 2019 meeting, nine months later, Thomas Drake, a DA’s office investigator, suggested that he had not even completed basic research on Campo, much less tried to bring him in as a witness. At one point in the meeting, Drake asked Bovell where Campo lived and double checked his first name, according to a recording of the meeting.
The investigator said that his office had not been pursuing a “bigger investigation” because Bovell and Murray, his attorney, had not been responsive to their queries. Murray countered that the DA’s office should have had an interest in the allegations because his office was still bringing forward cases based on the work of accused officers.
“I’m happy to start looking back into this again,” Drake said.
“But why wouldn’t you do that even if we didn’t come in?,” Murray replied.
Murray, Bovell’s attorney, said he fears the months of apparent delays may have undermined the investigation.
In February of 2020, after Bovell informed Campo of his recordings, the officer filed a report with the department claiming he had no knowledge of any misconduct and stating that he would not speak with the DA’s office on the matter.
The DA’s office did not respond to questions about what it has done to reach out to other potential witnesses. Long, the longtime crack dealer, said the DA’s office never reached out to him to corroborate Campo’s claims, but said he would cooperate if he had a lawyer by his side.
“I have no problem being open to helping get these mother****ers off the streets,” he said. He said he believes many other Mount Vernon residents have stories like his.
“Police officers, they do what they want to do out here,” he said. “The same thing that’s been done to me has been done to many a people. And probably a whole lotta people that I don’t even know. This is just what they do.”
Three days after Gothamist/WNYC reached out to the city of Mount Vernon to ask about Long’s claims of a false arrest in 2017, Mount Vernon police arrested him again for an alleged drug sale. At his arraignment hearing, he pled not guilty.
This piece is part of an ongoing series on police corruption allegations in Mount Vernon, New York and Westchester County. If you have a tip about a prosecutor's office, a law enforcement agency or the courts, email reporter George Joseph at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is also on Facebook, Twitter@georgejoseph94, and Instagram @georgejoseph81. You can also text or call him with tips at 929-486-4865. He is also on the encrypted phone app Signal with the same phone number.