NEW YORK, June 7 (Reuters) - A former New York City police officer was sentenced to 20 years in prison Tuesday for his role in a string of more than 100 violent robberies of narcotics traffickers. The robberies netted more than $4 million in drug proceeds.
Jorge Arbaje-Diaz, 31, was arrested in 2008 and charged in Brooklyn federal court along with 14 other members of a violent robbery crew that prosecutors say posed as police officers to rob narcotics dealers along the East Coast of the U.S. Arbaje-Diaz and one other member of the crew were the only two real officers.
In May of last year, he pleaded guilty to one count each of robbery conspiracy and narcotics-trafficking conspiracy.
According to prosecutors, Arbaje-Diaz used his status as a police officer to gain access to narcotics traffickers' houses. Once inside, crew members bound and tortured some of their victims, demanding to know where drugs and money were kept, prosecutors said.
Working since 2003, the crew made off with $4 million in drug profits and more than 750 kilograms of cocaine, prosecutors said. Arbaje-Diaz personally took part in robberies that netted thousands of dollars in cash and drugs with a street value of more than $20,000.
On at least one occasion, Arbaje-Diaz took part in a robbery while on duty, using his NYPD-issued firearm, badge and handcuffs, prosecutors said.
"Today's sentence will send a strong message that anyone who abuses a position of public trust by committing such heinous crimes will be severely punished," U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said in a statement.
Priya Chaudhry, Arbaje-Diaz's attorney, did not return a request for comment Tuesday.
In a pre-sentencing memorandum filed last month, Chaudhry argued for a more lenient sentence of 10 years, contending that Arbaje-Diaz's status as a "dirty cop" would make it much more difficult to keep him safe inside prison.
The case is USA v. De Vargas et al, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, no. 08-00115.
For the U.S.: Assistant U.S. attorneys Shreve Ariail, Justin Lerer and Gina Parlovecchio; and Bronx County assistant district attorney Jeremy Shockett.
For Arbaje-Diaz: Gregory Cooper and Priya Chaudhry.
(Reporting by Jessica Dye)