NEW YORK - When investigators hit the 30th Precinct, they found a crew of cops with free run of the streets. Police leadership was lax. Restraints were few. And there was a huge supply of cocaine and cash.
The result: The latest case of corruption in the nation's largest police department, with at least a dozen officers accused of brutally using their precinct in Harlem as a drug bazaar to clear huge profits.
"Up there, it was like winning the Lotto," said Bobby Machado, an investigator who helped expose the cops. "They know they have another chance to win the next day. There's so much money involved."
"I was shocked," said Frank O'Hara, one of Machado's fellow investigators on the Mollen Commission, which was set up in 1992 to ferret out crooked cops.
O'Hara's reaction was justified. Among the investigators' allegations:
-- A uniformed cop shot a drug dealer for his stash.
-- A corrupt officer auctioned off a kilo of cocaine among three drug dealers.
-- On-duty officers would, in a single shift, seize and resell dope for a $12,000 profit. Two officers split $100,000 in a single theft.
Breaking and entering was standard procedure to seize dope and cash, as was ripping apart cars to find hidden drugs, the investigators say.
When the police officers were arrested Friday, Police Commissioner William Bratton personally seized some of their badges and said their dishonored numbers would never be issued again.
Not even the buzz about an investigation halted the crime wave. "It slowed down, but it never went away," O'Hara said.
"I kind of looked at it almost like an organized-crime family," O'Hara said.
Three officers have already pleaded guilty, and three others were arrested earlier last month on assault and robbery charges in a sting operation.
The Mollen Commission's team - Machado, O'Hara and chief investigator Brian Carroll - looks at the job as chasing crooks, not cops.
"The drug dealers wear uniforms now," said Machado, a retired narcotics detective.
Bratton said about 35 more officers in the precinct were expected to be arrested or disciplined in the next few weeks, and other precincts were under investigation.
"Twenty-five percent of the precinct has problems," he said, suggesting there was pervasive knowledge among the precinct's 191 officers that fellow officers were crooked.
The three investigators - who all worked for two decades in the New York Police Department - laid out the prime ingredients for police corruption in the '90s: No. 1, drugs. No. 2, a lack of precinct leadership. No. 3, officers who operate without fear of prosecution.
It was the same way for the "Buddy Boys," the corrupt cops of the 77th Precinct in Brooklyn in 1986, and the Mollen Commission's first case of the year, the "Morgue Boys," a band of officers who robbed drug dealers and divided up the booty in an abandoned coffin factory.
There were advance clues about corruption at the 30th Precinct. One of the dirty dozen was the subject of 27 civilian complaints since 1990, 17 of them alleging criminal conduct, Carroll said. He remained on duty until his arrest Friday.
Another officer's monthly paycheck barely covered the mortgage on his suburban home, leaving him with just $80 to somehow support his wife, two kids, two cars and other expenses.
Officers routinely filed blatantly bogus or duplicate reports, but supervisors never questioned them, authorities said. Eventually, it became accepted behavior.
"In talking about it, some of these cops all of a sudden realize, `I'm not shaving the line. I didn't just cross the line. I left that line back years ago,' " Carroll said.
Information from The New York Times is included in this report.