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Lawyer Says Suspended Cop Was Led Into Corruption

April 28, 1987

NEW YORK (AP) _ A police officer indicted in a corruption probe was a naive, frustrated man led astray by a fellow officer who was trying to avoid prosecution for protecting drug dealers, a defense lawyer said Monday.

Robert Rathbun, 36, was indicted on 41 counts of conspiracy, burglary, theft, possession and sale of marijuana and crack and official misconduct.

His is the first trial stemming from indictments against 13 officers at Brooklyn’s 77th Precinct. One officer committed suicide a day before the indictments were revealed in November.

In his opening argument, Rathbun’s lawyer, Mark Summers, said the precinct was considered a career dead end, and that a key witness - Officer Henry Winter - was sent there to work undercover and implicate others in corruption.

Prosecutor Pamela Hayes, in her opening statement, said Rathbun and other officers broke into drug dens and stole cash and narcotics from dealers.

Winter was arrested in May 1986 after an internal investigation into complaints that officers in the precinct were operating a protection racket for drug dealers. Winter and his partner, Officer Anthony Magno, collected up to $800 a week from some dealers, Summers said.

″They were supposed to make sure that these select few drug dealers could operate with impunity, that they wouldn’t get arrested, that the cops wouldn’t bother them,″ Summers said.

After Winter’s arrest, which came after information given by a drug dealer, special state prosecutor Charles Hynes offered to let him keep his job, his pension and avoid prosecution if he would implicate other officers.

Winter was paired with Rathbun, and that partnership led to Rathbun’s downfall, Summers said.

Rathbun was described by his lawyer as ″not the smartest guy around,″ naive and immature. Summers said he was increasingly frustrated and discouraged at being assigned to the 77th.

The 13-year veteran was transferred from the Narcotics Division in 1983 after being disciplined for a departmental infraction.

″The 77th Precinct, you will hear, ladies and gentlemen, was the end of the line for a lot of police officers,″ Summers said. ″The end of the line, the end of a career.″

Crime was rampant, but officers were discouraged from making arrests because processing them would have led to too much overtime, he said.

In that situation, Rathbun became ″an extremely depressed, frustrated and psychologically disturbed individual,″ Summers said.

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