Upper West Side Resident

FROM THE SQUAD ROOM

TOUGH SQUAD WITH A HEART:
Manhattan Sex Crimes

by E.W. Count

‘The perps don’t like us,” says Sergeant Joann Newbert. You’d expect to find the tall, regal-looking woman in some corporate spot, but here she is in the rundown offices of the Manhattan Sex Crimes Squad at the 20th Precinct. In fact, Newbert had more than 14 years as a cop and a detective when, in l990, she took command of the squad the perps “don’t like.”

One of her 13 detectives is John Savino, 30, who’s been with Sex Crimes about a year and a half. Before that, he was a Narcotics undercover (“I bought drugs all over Manhattan North”). Average height, open-faced, the ex-undercover with the conservative mustache is nobody you’d especially notice. Except for maybe the cowboy boots.

Chances are, nobody much noticed Savino one evening last December when he stopped by 249 West 108th Street and stuck a pin in the bell next to the name Rodriguez. The relentless ring called a 32-year-old self-employed plumber, Antonio Rodriguez, downstairs. Smooth and composed, the suspect “went to shake my hand,” says Savino. “I put the cuffs on.”

Rodriguez knew Savino as the detective who had already arrested him the month before for allegedly raping a Hispanic woman some 10 years his senior, in Riverside Park.

Savino says Rodriguez, who spoke Spanish to his alleged victim, had first approached her on November 11, offering his help as a police officer and showing a silver shield. That day, Rodriguez gave her a slip of paper with his beeper number written on it, Savino told me. When she didn’t call, he allegedly came and got her on November 15, luring her to the park.

Using subpoenaed beeper company records, Savino was able to identify and locate Rodriguez and make the first arrest; in a lineup, the victim positively identified him. But despite serious charges – rape, attempted sodomy and criminal impersonation – the judge at his Criminal Court arraignment released Rodriguez on a mere $1,000 bail.

In sex crimes, notes Newbert, “the recidivist rate is very high. . . [in investigations] you look at guys who’ve done it before.” Each police report that crosses her desk gets close scrutiny.

Savino says it was the sergeant who brought to his attention the report on an earlier unsolved incident in which a 39-year-old Guatemalan woman had been raped and sodomized on November 2 on the Upper East Side. Again, a Spanish-speaking con, now posing as an NYPD detective.

“He had a good scam going,” Savino says, “he figured if the cops believed the perp was a cop, they wouldn’t do anything about it.” The first thing Savino did after learning his suspect’s I.D. from the beeper records was a name check of law enforcement personnel records. There was no such officer as Antonio Rodriguez.

Savino, seething at the low bail set in Rodnguez’s first case, all but kicked up his cowboy heels at the prospect of charging the badge-flashing suspect a second time.

Minutes after Savino collared Rodriguez outside his residence, the plumber’s composure fell apart. Instead of putting him in a lineup, the cops took him to Bellevue for observation. The victim had no difficulty identifying him from a photo array, however, and when Rodriguez was arraigned. Assistant District Attorney Matthew Menchel asked for and got $100,000 bail.

Newbert, Savino and Menchel all are convinced that Rodriguez was faking his emotional distress.

At press time, legal proceedings were stalled, pending the results of a psychiatric exam. If convicted of both rapes, Rodriguez faces 16 2/3 to 50 years in state prison.

‘There’s a great deal of satisfaction for a woman who successfully completes a rape prosecution,” Sgt. Newbert says. “For the detectives, it’s very satisfying when they’ve helped and somebody says thanks.”

Newbert’s squad is eager to help other women whom Rodriguez may have lured with his badge. “I think he’s done more,” says Savino, “I’m sure he did it before.”

If you hear of anyone who was sexually assaulted by a Spanish-speaking man fitting the description of Antonio Rodriguez, she’ll get expert, compassionate help by calling Manhattan Sex Crimes at 580-6436. Ask for Detective John Savino.